Jordan Peele and the Horror Genre

These days, you cannot have a discussion about horror films without mentioning Jordan Peele’s name. With his third written, produced and directed feature film Nope, set for release this year, Peele is fast becoming one of the most recognisable and popular names in today's horror genre. With a history in comedy spanning over 10 years, Peele has forged a name for himself in film and television as both a writer and an actor. He was formerly part of the well-known comedy duo that is Key and Peele, a half-hour satirical sketch show which he created and starred in alongside good friend Keegan-Michael Key. They delivered five seasons for Comedy Central and their collaboration ended amicably in 2015.

Peele’s roots in comedy are still prevalent in his feature film work to date, with both Get Out (2017) and Us (2019) having strong elements of humour throughout their stories. Music, representation and family bonds are all prevalent themes throughout Peele’s work, and can be seen in his films. In preparation for his newest feature release, I feel now is a good point in time to reflect on a couple of things that make his previous films so good to watch.

Music is one of the main components which separates and elevates his films from others of the genre. Peele is able to take a well-known and well-loved song, previously not associated with anything particularly horror inclined, and transform it into something that strikes a chord of fear within the audience. While talking about the composition and choice of music in his films, Peele said in an interview back in 2019 about Us, ‘The difference between a horror and comedy often is the music…they’re very connected… I won't fight laughter in my films.’. Both comedy and horror play an important role in Peele’s films, with the line between both often blurring at points, as we are able to laugh at the savagery taking place before our eyes whilst also fearing what is to come. He continues, ‘Take a dope track, but one that has a haunting thing going on… that's how I, sort of, get the anthems of my films’. Take Us for example, the film includes the hit mid-1990s track ‘I Got 5 On It’ performed by Luniz and Michael Marshall. Peele focuses on the first 20 seconds or so of this song (an instrumental with limited vocals) to hook the audience into the story unfolding on screen. Although not a huge portion of music, the choice is impactful in invoking a feeling of dread and we are fully engaged and wondering what we are going to witness unfolding. Alternatively, in Get Out, Peele uses Childish Gambino’s ‘Redbone’ as his hook, a much more mellow song than the latter though just as impactful.

Representation is at the forefront of Peele’s films. He puts Black actors centre stage who had previously not had the opportunity to share and create their stories in the same way that white filmmakers and actors have enjoyed. Peele also tends to have a family as one of the main pillars of his stories. In Get Out, it was the Armitages, a white, upper-class family who come from wealth and plan to transfer the consciousness of their friends and themselves into the bodies of young Black people. In Us, it is the middle class Wilsons who are at the heart of our horror. We follow Adelaide, Gabe, Zora and Jason as they come face-to-face with their doppelgangers, out for blood, and not just any blood – theirs. Peele uses his own fears to create and perpetuate his stories. ‘The doppelganger fear has been with me since I was a kid… just the idea of seeing yourself and what if yourself just smiled at you, like, knowingly… that’s scary’. By drawing on his lived experience, Peele is able to create something the audience is able to connect with on a human level. The prospect of seeing yourself in the mirror and someone else looking back at you is something we’ve all thought about at one point or another, Peele has been just brave enough to take this primal fear out from the mirror's image and put it into the real world.

So what can we expect from Nope? Well, as a minimum some good representation, an interesting family dynamic and a set-up which Peele uses to make us laugh whilst simultaneously reflecting our deepest fears back at us. A familiar face will also be joining us up on screen: Daniel Kaluuya (Chris from Get Out) playing OJ Haywood. It will be intriguing to see how he tackles this new role and if he draws anything from his last Peele production five years ago. If we don’t know anything else, we know that if Jordan Peele is involved, it's going to be another thought-provoking, physiological horror with, of course, some great tunes.

Isobel Speirs, Youth Board Member

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