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Nope

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I hate using the term “elevated horror”, since most memorable horror films are allegorical as hell. With a Jordan Peele film there’s always something deeper at play; a social commentary, critiques on the relationship between America and its Black citizens, and an abundance of well-placed Black history morsels baked into a fictional story. “Nope” is no different, as his overall statement draws attention to how cinema has historically treated its non-white actors.

Synopsis: OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) are in financial distress. They own a horse ranch and are in fact the only Black horse wranglers in Hollywood, but are struggling to find work after a sudden family tragedy. One night after one of the horses jumps a fence and runs off, OJ thinks he sees something resembling a UFO flying above the ranch. When he tells his sister she’s skeptical, but soon realizes that if they could get a clear photo of it, they could monetize this event.

The rest of the movie follows the siblings (with the addition of a couple of eccentric characters) as they attempt to capture evidence of a UFO on film. This is a quest which leads them to the horrifying truth about this particular UFO; with a twist which I did not see coming.

There is also a side story, told as a flashback, which documents the violent event surrounding a chimp who was once the star of its own television sitcom. As bizarre as this tale is, it clearly stands as the most intriguing thing in the movie.   

The characters themselves are fairly two-dimensional, which is somewhat surprising given how Peele usually presents his leads. That said, these simplistic characters really complement the type of story where a small group of “nobodies” band together to defeat an insurmountable bad guy. Oddly enough it’s this “simplicity”, along with Keke Palmer’s standout performance, that allows for a concentrated level of pre-third act entertainment value, which is maintained for most of the film.

The ending is where things came back down to Earth for me. After maintaining said high level of entertainment which allowed me to shrug off some of the more confusing aspects with ease, the final fifteen minutes felt complete, but underwhelming; leaving me longing for a third act that was just as profound as some of the themes throughout the film.

Final thought: When speaking of an auteur like Jordan Peele, it is hard not to start comparing “Nope” to his other films. If at all possible, I would encourage you not to do that. What “Nope” lacks in certain aspects, it makes up for in being a fully original story, as well as being his most visually ambitious film to date. This is a movie which comes to the table with new ideas, while also borrowing from movies like “Jaws”, “Tremors” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. And while it does fall short of those classics, I will continue to proclaim that my least favorite Jordan Peele movie is still a good movie.

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Candyman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This sequel/reboot sees a young Black painter (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) named Anthony, who is forced to explore the infamous, mostly abandoned Cabrini-Green public housing projects after his white boss asks him to create a new and preferably Black poverty porn inspired art piece for an upcoming gallery opening. Anthony soon finds that this housing project is rife with a history of Black tragedy, stemming from the legend of Candyman (Tony Todd); a Black boogeyman with a hook for a hand who kills those who say his name five times in front of a mirror. At first this journey simply changes Anthony’s art, as he moves from creating pieces which symbolize violence to pieces that actually depict violence. But after he says Candyman’s name, he finds that he has not only summoned a single entity, but something much more powerful.

In the 1992 original, a white grad student becomes obsessed with the legend of Candyman and decides to venture into the projects to see for herself. For how beloved it is, in retrospect the original is problematic, as it is a story about Black mythos told through the eyes of white people (a white main character, writer and director) who treat a segment of Black culture/trauma as something too terrifying to speak aloud. 2021’s Candyman takes the legend and not only removes the white main characters, but uses the original story as an allegory for gentrification and culture vultures; the white fascination with Black “ghetto” culture and the theft of Black art that is then repackaged into something which titillates white suburbanites. This version is based on the theory that white people are turned on by the history of Black poverty and trauma.

Executive produced by Jordan Peele, there was a standard I walked into this horror film expecting. A standard that had nothing to do with jump scares or gore, and everything to do with depth of story. No “Candyman” is not a “scary movie”. But in the same way learning about the real-life brutalities inflicted upon Black bodies throughout history would be, I would classify this as a terrifying watch. Also, the direction from director/co-writer Nia DaCosta is so poetically claustrophobic, it makes me eager to see what’s next for her fledgling career. As for the story itself, the few tangential scenes throughout that struggled to propel the story forward, didn’t take away from the impact of any underlying message.

Final Thought: As I alluded to earlier, the original depicts Candyman as basically a demon; a single man turned monster who punishes and kills and torments, relishing in indiscriminate violence. What DaCosta’s suggests with her version is that while violent, the Candyman is not evil for the sake of evil, but more so an accumulation of Black pain; an amalgamation of persecution towards the Black community throughout history, and thus, justifying the violence of Candyman. But she doesn’t stop there. In the end, DaCosta puts forth the argument that as terrifying as Candyman is, he very much is something liken to a Black superhero.  

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