When Jordan Peele, writer and director of Get Out and Us, comes out with a new horror project, it is certain that movie enthusiasts of all kinds will flock to the theater. With a $44 million opening weekend, Nope is currently number one in the box office. Its elements of cosmic horror, neo-Western themes and monstrous aliens make this UFO thriller strange, absurd and terrifying.
WARNING: CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS
Bad Miracles in Nope
Nope begins with a dark screen and the audio of a man and woman talking, their jokes supported by a laughing audience. We are listening to a sitcom recording. Suddenly a balloon pops, and everyone nervously laughs before their joy is drowned out with haunting screams and a howling. The camera takes us to the stage: a chimp named Gordy is sitting quietly on the floor of a TV studio stage. He is wearing dark pants, a yellow long sleeve shirt and a birthday hat. His breath is heavy, his body leaning heavily against a couch. A woman lays on the floor behind him, and he is covered in her blood.
There is a lot to take in with this opening scene, as the trailer for Nope did a good job making the plot as obscure as possible. It also sets the tone for the rest of the movie, where violence, suffering and death are inevitable. (Bearing in mind that the chimp is CGI and it’s screams are stock sound,) this is one of the most terrifying scenes in Nope and it is just the beginning.
History in the Making
Enter animal trainers Otis Haywood Senior (Keith David) and his children Otis “OJ” Haywood Junior (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald “Em” Haywood (Keke Palmer). After Otis Sr. has a tragic accident, OJ takes over his father’s ranch and business, Haywood Hollywood Horses, the latter of which Em occasionally helps out with. When the siblings travel back to the ranch after a long day of work in Hollywood, they notice strange things happening with the horses. It doesn’t take long for them to conclude that extraterrestrial forces might be to blame.
A critical theme in Nope is America’s centuries-long practice of excluding Black history and accomplishments. Em tells a small film crew that the “very first assembly of photographs to create a motion picture was a Black man on a horse” and that man was her great, great, great grandfather. His name is not mentioned, because the name of the jockey on the horse in the clip is unknown.
As with all works of fiction, Peele slightly alters these bits of history in Nope. What is most important is how he hones in on the true fact that Black people have had their accomplishments erased and uncredited throughout American history, whether it is in art, science or the history of horse riding. The importance of this becomes evident later in the movie when OJ and Em work hard to capture a UFO on film. The “Oprah shot” can not only preserve the Haywood legacy, but possibly change the the state of the world as we know it.
Overall, Nope is a simple tale of two siblings working to capture a UFO on film. But beneath the surface, there is a smorgasbord of layers that work and other components that do not. One of my favorite scenes is when the UFO abducts Ricky Park and his family and audience. We see a small gruesome glimpse of what happens to the abductees, and it is chilling.
Every actor, from the extras to the main cast, put on an incredible performance in Nope. Kaluuya and Palmer especially steal the show, with Steven Yeun (playing theme park owner and child actor Ricky “Jupe” Park) and Brandon Perea (playing tech salesman Angel Torres) providing excellent and comedic support. Their acting and the IMAX filming bring the story to life, even in moments when the story falters.
At the end of Nope, when the UFO takes on a different form, the CGI and filming is exquisite. It is also near this scene where the story becomes a bit lackluster. The movie ends with Em finally getting the “Oprah shot.” This scene mirrors previous figurative and literal shots in the film; Palmer carries these last few . But while Nope’s actors and cinematography are profound during these moments, the overall conclusion is ultimately unsatisfying.
And yet, Peele does well in making sure the stories he writes do not dependent on its ending. The strong world building, gorgeous film score and impressive wide shots make Nope engaging from beginning to end, even if the final scenes are not as exciting as they could have been.
Horror Meets IMAX
Nope‘s cinematography is beautiful. Peele’s used large format IMAX cameras, whose high resolution capabilities allowed for an immersive, transformative viewing experience. This, coupled with the expansive and color-contrasting desert landscape, added a unique neo-Western aura to the film. When the camera captures the spaceship creeping out of a cloud in the sky, or when blood pours on the Haywood home, it feels as if we are right there with the Haywood siblings, escaping the hungry monster in the sky.
As with most of Peele’s works, Nope is riddled with an array of interpretations and hidden meanings. The UFO blockbuster is a large pivot from his previous works, thus illustrating just how wide of a range the writer and director has when working with horror. Nope is a strange and enthralling UFO summer movie worth watching. And whether or not this specific niche of film is your cup of tea, there is no denying that Peele continues to make history in the beloved, under-appreciated genre that is horror. (4 / 5)
Shutter Island (2010): Review
Leonardo Dicaprio’s films rarely disappoint. It was interesting to see him flex different acting muscles in this psychological thriller Shutter Island alongside Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams. When I say that I was not expecting such a turn in the story, I mean that my jaw was pretty much on the floor the entire time. Without any further ado, let’s dive into its mastery, shall we?
A cliché setup done right
We have been here before a million times. A character stumbles into a scene to solve a mystery. Everyone is acting just the right amount of suspicion to make you wonder. Dicaprio’s Edward ‘Teddy’ travels to an extremely remote island where a woman goes missing from a psychiatric institution. He’s experiencing migraines and flashbacks to his murdered wife while receiving little to no help from the hospital staff.
Teddy soon suspects that the hospital is experimenting on patients which fuels his theories on what happened to the missing woman. Things take even more of a turn when his partner also disappears. Unsurprisingly, everyone insists Teddy came to the island alone. Feeling like he’s losing his mind, our protagonist finds out that this is exactly the case. He is a patient in the hospital and the entire investigation is an attempt to get him to understand the truth.
While the whole ‘it was all in your head’ trope has a bad rep for the fans of any genre, this film uses it masterfully. Watching it for the first time not knowing what to expect is obviously a shock and then watching it again, looking at all the clues that were the which you missed – that’s a treat on its own. After all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using cliches if they are done the right way.
Things that go bump in our minds
A huge part of this movie’s storyline is Andrew’s inability to process the truth. The roots for it stretch far beyond the plot twist. Andrew is unable to acknowledge that his wife is mentally ill and believes that moving them to the countryside will fix everything. After she murders their children, he is further pushed into the world of delusion, convincing himself to be a hero because he couldn’t save his own family.
It’s interesting to note that in his delusion, Andrew is the one who set fire to their house. Is this a little sliver of his mind whispering the truth to him? Is it his subconscious villainizing himself out of contempt, searching for answers that are never going to come? Andrew’s psychiatrist pointed out that his moment of clarity has happened before, only to be undone quite quickly. Perhaps it was easier for Andrew to shut it off rather than live with the knowledge that he could’ve done something to prevent a terrible tragedy.
Shutter Island is a movie that provides both the entertainment value you would expect from a suspense thriller and a deeper layer of thought. Coated with a perfect atmosphere and amazing acting, it’s a piece that will definitely hold the test of time. (4.5 / 5)
Wheel of Time, Daughter of The Night
We’ve reached episode four of Wheel of Time, which means we’re halfway through the season. While it doesn’t seem like much has happened so far, this is the episode where things start heating up.
We begin this episode with a flashback. Ishamael is raising something dark and twisted. As we watch, it takes the shape of a woman.
More on that in a bit.
Meanwhile, Nynaeve is healing from her time in the arches. She is quiet and withdrawn. She’s also awkward and uncomfortable around Egwene now that she’s initiated and Egwene is not. Her new friendship with Elayne isn’t helping.
But the three girls come together when Liandrin tells Nynaeve that Perrin has been captured by the Seanchan.
However, Perrin is no longer in the clutches of the Seanchan. He was rescued by Elyas and a pack of beautiful wolves. Beautiful and deadly AF by the way. If you have any fear of dogs, this episode might not help that.
Elyas explains to Perrin that he is a Wolf Brother. This means that he can communicate with the wolves, and eventually will gain some of their abilities. While Perrin and Elyas don’t exactly get off on the right foot, he does find a fast friendship with one specific wolf. After a time, he introduces himself by showing Perrin an image of himself jumping up and down. From this, Perrin assumes his name is Hopper.
Finally, we return to Rand. He and Selene have been off in the mountains. They haven’t done much more than each other so far.
And that’s exactly what it appears they’re about to do when Moiraine bursts into the cottage and cuts Selene’s throat.
Rand is surprised and furious until Moiraine explains that the woman he knows as Selene is the Dark Friend Lanfear. With this shocking revelation, the two run off into the night.
It should be a surprise to no one that I loved the wolves in this episode. Hopper himself was worth an extra Cthulhu. But this is not just because dogs are cute. It’s also because the dog playing Hopper just does a great job.
On a more serious note, I loved how Nynaeve responded upon coming back to the real world. She isn’t okay.
And it’s a good thing that she isn’t. Too often in fiction we don’t see the fallout of emotional damage. Hell, we don’t usually see realistic fallout from physical damage.
But she is hurt by what she experienced. And you can tell. That’s realistic character building, and we don’t see that enough.
I also really appreciate the special effects in this episode. The first time we see Lanfear, she’s eerie. She’s frightening. Part of this is thanks to Natasha O’Keeffe, who does a great job. But the effects are what really sells this.
What didn’t work
If Wheel of Time has any fault, it’s that there is far too much sitting about and talking about things. In this case, there’s a lot of standing about and talking about things. Some of this was necessary, and some of it could have been done better. Honestly, there just has to be a better way to convey that characters are struggling.
This was most apparent with Rand and Selene/Lanfear. Honestly, anytime the two of them were on screen it was a great time for me to catch up on Instagram.
This might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t read the books, but Rand is supposed to be the main character. And here we are, four episodes into an eight-episode season, and so far all he’s done is mess about with his emo girlfriend!
That being said, the story is starting to pick up. With four episodes left, I can’t wait to see how far we go.
(3 / 5)
Elevator Game, a Film Review
Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks.
Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks. It adapts the supernatural myth and creepypasta of the same name while providing an original plot. This unrated Shudder exclusive stars Gino Anania, Samantha Halas, and Verity Marks. In full disclosure, I had the opportunity to interview Gino Anania and Stefan Brunner about the film.
Ryan seeks to find answers to his sister’s mysterious disappearance. To do this, he infiltrates a myth-busting web series that seems to have some ties to her final confirmed moments. Desperate to force a confrontation, he encourages them to play the elevator game. Unfortunately, there seems to be more truth to the myth than expected.
What I Like about Elevator Game & as an Adaptation
I am lucky to have additional insight into the development hell this movie overcame due to COVID. It’s commendable that the film manages to make it of that, even if it requires a lengthy delay of the film.
Usually, I provide a separate section for adaptation quality. However, the source material remains the ritual, which Elevator Game performs accurately. While the myth inspires many creepypastas, Elevator Game doesn’t directly take or adapt any of these works from what I’ve seen. Instead, it makes its own film based on the legend.
As the Fifth Floor Woman, Samantha Halas creates an eerie and disturbing character. While I won’t go so far as to say terrifying, she certainly makes an impression. The revelation that the stunts and performance are all her, as an actual contortionist, I give her more credit.
Gino Anania, given a more complex role than most of his cast members, really does bring a strong performance that creates either friction or synergy with his cast members. I suppose I wanted more of these interactions as some cut sooner than appreciated.
Another amusing element is that the entire motivation for the plot to follow is a forced advertisement from an investor. Something about the chaos being a product of appeasing some investors feels uncomfortably real.
The alternate reality remains surprisingly effective. To be clear, it’s not impressively realistic but stylistic. It genuinely seems like an alternate world with a skewered impression.
Tired Tropes or Trigger Warning
I feel weird mentioning this, but endangering a sister’s life to push the brother’s story forward seems a common trend beyond one form of media.
No discredit to the actors, but the romance feels rushed and unnecessary. Without going into too much detail, to avoid spoilers, there is synergy between the actors but little chemistry in the plot.
What I Dislike or Considerations
Elevator Game remains set in providing a B-movie experience. Its tight budget leaves little room to surprise the viewer visually. While I am surprised at what it accomplishes, it’s far from overwhelming. This film also remains the first production of Fearworks, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’m interested in the future, but Elevator Game leaves much to grow from.
Rebekah McKendry may have a directorial style that influences dialogue, but the line delivery evokes an overexpression that’s common in Lovecraftian films. I say this not as a direct negative, but it remains a required taste best known before viewing. As this isn’t Lovecraftian, I fear it removes some of the reality and tension of those haunting elements.
Many of the characters feel underdeveloped, making me wonder if cutting these roles might lead to more invested characters. While the performances hit their marks, a tighter cast might give each role more to work toward. As this is a tight cast already, it seems an odd issue to rectify.
Elevator Game provides an interesting B-movie experience for those who know the legend. For those expecting something different, this film may not work for you. This film overcame a lot to exist but doesn’t break the mold. While I am excited to see Fearworks pursue further ventures toward its ambitious mission statement, I find Elevator Game falling short of its goal.
(2 / 5)