Jordan Peele, the former star of Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele” turned horror director of “Get Out” and “Us,” had high standards to live up to with his third feature film. Taking on his biggest budget to date of $68 million, Peele was forced to woo audiences with nothing less than a shocking and original spectacle to exceed expectations.
Set in present-day Southern California, “Jo” follows siblings OJ and Emerald Haywood working as horse trainers for Hollywood freelancers. After the death of their father and a disaster in a commercial group, the siblings return to their isolated farm unsure of their future. That night on their farm, the two discover something mysterious hiding in the clouds, what appears to be a UFO.
The emotional weight of the film lies in the performances of Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. Together, the two make a stark contrast as siblings – OJ is quiet, stoic and cowboy-like, while Emerald is talkative, exuberant and unafraid to speak her mind. With the help of their friends, the two try to capture their strange discovery on camera with the Oprah shot, photographic evidence of their discovery and most importantly, their ticket to fame.
The stylistic choices displayed in “No” are distinctly original and reflect Peele’s growing confidence as an auteur. With the help of cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, Peele shoots some of the clearest night scenes due to his decision to shoot on Kodak film specially made for IMAX. Combined with the strange and sometimes disturbing moments in the narrative, some of the images Peele creates will linger in the mind of the viewer long after the title is taken.
The sound design of “No” is equally impressive. A particularly eerie scene featuring Corey Hart’s 80s classic “Sunglasses At Night.” The song is so distorted and layered with echoes that, combined with the events unfolding on screen, it creates a chilling scene that proves ‘No’ demands to be seen in cinemas.
While “No” flexes its stylistic muscles and digs into the sibling dynamic, it also hits the stratosphere with social commentary. The film explores how the most horrific and depraved tragedies inevitably become fuel for entertainment.
Peele has proven himself to be a keen social observer and his stories seem to be shaped around his observations. His talent for capturing the spirit of time periods makes his films more than just entertaining, but culturally relevant. With that said, “No” remains far from perfect.
While “No” is filled with nuanced commentary and demonstrates supreme confidence in its form, unlike Peele’s previous films, it lacks fully realized characters. None of the siblings experience significant growth as they fail to maintain the proper depth needed for real emotional stakes from the viewer.
Instead, the characters in No seem to function as archetypes; they are chess pieces for Peele to manipulate, which serve as building blocks for his grand ambition. These types of characters shorten the film’s running time, but also narrow its emotional depth. The result is a film that delivers its share of shocks, thrills and commentary, but ultimately stumbles across the finish line in the absence of a meaningful resolution.
Despite its character development issues, “No” still has something to offer everyone. Whether one is a casual moviegoer who wants a good freak or a die-hard moviegoer hungry for bold creative directions, “No” offers an enjoyable experience for all.
“No”, even with some shortcomings, is exciting and worth seeing.