24 Lies a Second: Mind the Crockery!

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Mind the Crockery!

Jordan Peele started his career as a comedian, but in recent years has managed to reinvent himself as the 21st century's answer to Rod Serling – his allegorical horror movies Get Out and Us both drew a lot of attention, which he followed up by overseeing two seasons of a revived version of Twilight Zone. Now he has made Nope, which looks very much like an attempt at another reinvention – at least partially.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer player OJ and Emerald Haywood, sibling owners of a horse-breeding and animal-training facility in California. Times are hard economically, and they are still coming to terms with the death of their father in what looked very much like a freak accident (he was caught in a shower of metal debris dropped, presumably, by a plane).

But then things get worse, and a bit weirder, as the ranch starts to experience mysterious power outages, there are strange movements in the night sky, and something is (literally) frightening the horses – to say nothing of sucking them up into the clouds. The Haywoods' response to this unearthly visitation is stoically American – they realise there is big money to be made in UFO footage and set out to capture the whatever-it-is on film, not realising they may have profoundly misunderstood the nature of this strange phenomenon…

On one level Nope is a very competently crafted SF-horror movie, with Peele deftly making full use of the big budget he has been able to secure on this occasion. It starts off a little bit like the Shyamalan movie Signs before transforming into something rather different – everyone's point of reference seems to be the Steven Spielberg canon, which seems fair enough: it wouldn't be totally inaccurate to describe the plot as Close Encounters meets Jaws (though this is still rather reductive). The story rattles along, mostly with clarity, and there are some impressively big set-pieces before the end.

However, there's also something else going on here – a deliberate deconstruction of the whole concept of the big summer movie, which relies on visual spectacle to attract an audience. This is a world in which nothing has genuine validity unless it is mediated by a camera lens of some kind, and where the very act of looking has profound significance. The film keeps going off on odd tangents to explore this – there's a subplot about a chimpanzee on a murderous rampage on a sitcom set, which happened decades before the main story – and the effect is inevitably distancing. You're aware you're being lectured to even as the film is entertaining you, and this inevitably means it is ultimately a rather easier film to admire than to like or even completely enjoy. Nevertheless, an impressive piece of work from Peele, whose films are never less than interesting. One day it is very likely he will make a genuinely great movie – but he's not quite there yet.

More obscure scares in Lee Haven Jones' The Feast (Gwledd), though the obscurity in this case is because this is a Welsh-language movie and thus very likely not showing in a cinema near you. Be in no doubt: forget all talk of post-horror or horror-adjacent film-making, this may start fairly quietly but by the end there is enough blood and gristle sprayed about the place to satisfy all but the most demanding of gore-hounds.

So, given this is a film about a feast, what (or who) is on the menu? Well, the setting is rural Wales, where a wealthy MP (Julian Lewis Jones) and his wife (Nia Roberts) are throwing a swanky dinner party for friends. It's supposedly a social occasion, but it turns out there is business to discuss. The couple's two grown-up sons are lurking about the place, both of whom clearly have issues of their own, while a shy girl from the local village (Annes Elwy) has been retained to help with the catering. All seems set fair for a sumptuous display of how the other 2% live – but ancient and primal powers are moving in and around the house, and this will prove to be a night to remember – for anyone who survives it, anyway…

Exactly what is afoot in Jones' movie is not immediately clear (the script was written by Roger Williams, who also produced). It opens with a series of snapshots of strange events and images, and it's to the credit of the writer and director that by the end of the film, the significance of all of this has become completely clear. There is relatively little out of the ordinary in the opening movement of the film, just the tiniest signs of things not being quite as they should, but the direction and particularly the sound design do an admirable job of creating an unsettling and ominous atmosphere.

In the end what starts off looking like a bleak psychological drama in a vaguely Nordic style – lots of modernist architecture, all-mod-cons kitchen design and a general sense of vague threat in the air – blossoms into something much more visceral and Celtic. Both the pacing of the movie and the handling of the exposition are immaculate; there is never a sense of the film rushing to get to a revelation or a money-shot and the audience is told just enough to work out what is actually going on.

Suffice to say there is some very strong meat on the menu, in every sense, and viewers of a sensitive disposition would probably be better off looking elsewhere for an evening out. But this is a terrific piece of work – well written, well played, and working superbly both as satire and a rather ghastly piece of entertainment. It seems likely that without subsidies supporting artists working outside the English language, a film like The Feast would have found it much harder to get funding. If so, then this movie is one of the best arguments for encouraging minority-language cinema I can imagine. All I can say is hir byw Cymraeg!

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