With his third feature film, “Nope,” filmmaker Jordan Peele unequivocally cements his place on the Mount Rushmore of modern horror craftsmen. Alongside other notable names like Ari Aster and Robert Eggers, Peele crafts terrifying tales that both pay tribute to the past and forge a clear path ahead. He is nothing if not bold and ambitious in his approach.
Like any great horror storyteller, Peele doesn’t just devise chilling visuals in thoughtful, precise succession. He brings deeper texts and emotional arcs to give those frightening images real weight and importance. In his growing catalog (“Get Out,” “Us,” and now “Nope”), he showcases a clear vision as a director in how he delves into the human psyche to unearth new levels of the gruesome and the macabre. Whether it’s through grisly physical violence or emotional trauma, his films have a level of brutality that creeps behind the eyelids and crashes right into the brain. We recently revisited Peele’s work to compile the most brutal moments in his films (so far), and here are our top picks.
In His Father’s Shadow — Nope
Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) built a horse wrangling empire aptly named Haywood Ranch. Training horses for television and film, his legacy dates back to photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s “The Horse in Motion,” a series of photographs pieced together to show a horse’s gallop. The rider’s name is unknown, but in “Nope,” Otis claims him as his great-great-grandfather.
Unfortunately, we get little other backstory or characterization for Otis. In the film’s opening scene, Otis and his son OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) get ready for the work day. Otis laments that his daughter, Emerald (Keke Palmer), is nowhere to be seen, and OJ shrugs off his father’s frustrations. On his way up a nearby hill, a bizarre, dull screeching pierces the clouds overhead. In a matter of seconds, debris rain down upon their shoulders.
Several fragments strike Otis across his face and shoulders. OJ calls after his father, whose horse has been frightened, and starts a soft trot down into the valley. Slumped over, Otis slips from the horse and crashes to the ground. OJ rushes to his father’s side and takes him to the hospital. Upon arrival, there is little the doctors can do, as the gashes in Otis’ skin were unavoidably deadly. Grief-stricken, OJ is in absolute shock. It’s an emotional sequence that then informs much of OJ’s character and actions throughout the rest of the film. Tragically, he blames himself and can’t shake his father’s shadow.
Break Free — Get Out
Over the course of “Get Out,” Jordan Peele puts Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) through the emotional wringer in ways that are just as uncomfortable for the audience. In the finale, his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), exposes herself as an accomplice tasked with luring Black men and women to her family’s estate. Chris is then taken hostage and strapped to a large leather chair. On the television set before him, Armitage patriarch Roman (Richard Herd) walks him through the Coagula procedure. In simple terms, a white person’s consciousness is placed inside a Black person’s body, giving them full control.
It’s almost time for Chris’ procedure, but before they can hypnotize him, he shoves chair stuffing into his ears as a safeguard. Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), comes with a wheelchair to whisk him to the operating room but gets far more than he bargained for. Freed from the straps, Chris grabs an activity ball from a nearby bin and bashes Jeremy’s head. Moments later, he encounters Dean (Bradley Whitford), grabs a taxidermied deer head off the wall, and stabs him in the neck with its antlers, but he’s far from done. Upstairs, he struggles with Missy (Catherine Keener), who attempts to shank him with a letter opener. However, she underestimates Chris, and he yanks it out of her hands and slits her throat. Chris irrefutably demonstrates his will to survive at all costs, and that makes him one of the greatest horror characters of all time.
The Flying Saucer — Nope
OJ witnesses a silver disc flying over the hills in the distance early in “Nope.” In a conversation with Emerald, he confides about what he saw and asks about a “bad miracle.” Believing that the unidentified flying object is a sign of alien life, OJ and Emerald go to Fry’s Electronics to stock up on cameras and other necessary components.
Employee Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) offers to head out to the ranch and install the equipment. A bit of a conspiracy theorist when it comes to governmental coverups of alien sightings, he immediately believes that what they are experiencing is another life form. After installing the cameras, he spies on OJ and Emerald and confirms his suspicions when one of their cameras is drained of battery power.
The flying saucer makes further contact in the third act and begins ravaging the farmhouse. Angel gets sucked up into the object’s vacuum center. His screams mix with the droning roar of the alien creature. His body is thrown back to the ground, wrapped up in a blue tarp and sharp barbed wire. Thinking it may help him survive, he snuggles deeper into the makeshift sleeping bag 一 only to again get sucked back up into the ship. It’s a bone-chilling, edge-of-your-seat action sequence. Once again, the spacecraft spits his body out. Nearly lifeless, he tumbles into the dust. It’s only much later that we learn he survived — but just barely.
The Final Tethered Showdown — Us
In the twisted, mind-altering “Us” finale, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) tracks down her tethered doppelgänger (simply called “Red”) into the tunnels stretching throughout the country. She not only learns the reality behind why these shadow creations exist (to control those up above) but also unravels another mystery altogether. Adelaide is not Adelaide at all. She is the tethered that broke free as a child many years ago at the carnival.
“Us” begs the question about monsters made by their environment, an unexpected layer to an already intricate theme about class. Adelaide must prove she deserves the life she’s lived so far, and the two engage in a vicious battle of strength and wills. Paired with composer Michael Abels’ intense score, the scene mixes a disturbing dance with bright bursts of violence.
Having taken a fire poker from her friend’s home, Adelaide does her best to get a few good licks in. Her attempts to destroy Red are fruitless, at first, but upon entering one of the sleeping quarters, she thrusts the poker into Red’s chest. And she doesn’t stop there. She’s still in handcuffs and uses the metal links to strangle Red. Brutal and triumphant, it’s a moment worthy of all the cheers.
Star Lasso Experience — Nope
Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) is a consummate performer. As a carnival owner and proprietor of the local attraction Jupiter’s Claim, Ricky presents a live event you’re not likely to witness anywhere else in the world. Called the “Star Lasso Experience,” the show taps into people’s fear of the unknown. To the gasps of the audience, Ricky uses horses to lure in hovering spacecraft. While he claims to have experienced a real encounter six years prior, there’s a hint of fabrication to his performance, but that’s what showmen do. They perform.
One fateful day, a real flying saucer crests the horizon and attacks the audience. Not only does the horse fall prey to the alien creature, but the crowd and Ricky are sucked up into the giant black hole on the bottom of the spacecraft. With this scene, Jordan Peele abducts the audience for an up-close glimpse inside the alien creature. Blood-curdling screams mingle with a loud, dull screeching coming from the bowels of the ship. Bodies crack and distort, contrasting with the sinewy cylinder apparatus in which they’re trapped.
It’s the stuff of sweat-inducing nightmares. A later sequence is equally arresting. During a thunderstorm, the flying saucer hovers over the Haywood farmhouse and casts an umbrella-like shadow. Instead of raindrops, blood pours down from the ship’s insides and spills over the glass windows and woodwork. It’s next-level horror imagery.
Zora Retaliation — Us
Barely escaping their own tethered, Adelaide and her family eventually make their way to the home of their close friends Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker). Unfortunately, they’re too late to help and witness a ghastly sight. Gooey blood trails lead to mangled bodies. All is quiet, but they are not alone. The Tyler’s tethered pounce, and it’s a fight to the death.
Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) grabs a golf club and boldly tip-toes up the stairs to the second floor. Her younger brother, Jason (Evan Alex), picks up a crystalized quartz display as his weapon of choice, and together, they make their way into a back bedroom. Exuding real badass energy, Zora first knocks a tethered twin over the upstairs railing and then goes ballistic on the other, crushing their body into a pulp. Zora plays it low-key for most of the film, but you can never, ever underestimate her. She’s a warrior at heart, and she’s unafraid to mess you up.
Gunshot Death — Get Out
Chris fights tooth and nail to escape the clutches of Rose and her family. He leaves a trail of bodies in his wake, yet the final moment of carnage doesn’t involve him at all. Walter (Marcus Henderson), a groundskeeper who has been enslaved by Rose’s grandfather Roman, snaps out of his trance when Chris flashes the camera on his phone.
The white light is enough to give Walter agency again. Having handed him her scope-equipped gun, Rose is in for the surprise of her life. Walter squares his shoulders, aims his rifle at her chest, and shoots. Rose can’t believe her eyes, and she falls to the ground. Walter turns back with a solemn expression. He cocks his gun, places it under his chin, and pulls the trigger. Given the film’s context, it’s clear the only way Walter can ever be free again is to kill himself. Even though Chris does escape, Walter’s suicide embodies the desperation of humanity, especially when trapped inside an oppressive society.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Family Massacre — Us
One of many twists in “Us” centers around the mid-film revelation that the Wilson family are not the only ones with tethered doppelgängers. Close friends of the Wilsons, Kitty, Josh, and their two twin daughters Becca (Cali Sheldon) and Lindsey (Noelle Sheldon) are massacred in a grand, unexpected fashion. It’s an absolute bloodbath.
“I heard something outside,” Kitty says, expressing concerns that something may be amiss. Completely sloshed, Josh begrudgingly checks out the back patio and makes a cringey joke about spotting O.J. Simpson lurking in their backyard. He pours himself another drink and plays some Beach Boys tunes. Becca and Lindsey come out of their room to see what the hullabaloo is all about. In a flash, their tethered others pop up out of nowhere and slaughter them with a pair of gilded scissors. Josh and Kitty are next, sliced and diced in a gruesome fashion.
Kitty manages to stay alive just long enough to crawl through the living room. It’s a valiant but futile effort to escape. She calls out for Ophelia (their virtual assistant app) to ring up the police, but it misunderstands her words and instead blasts “F*** tha Police” by N.W.A. at full volume. Peele’s decision to add a bit of levity to the situation makes this scene far more deranged.
Gordy The Chimp — Nope
One of the most fascinating and shocking elements of “Nope” is Ricky’s traumatic backstory. Shown in flashbacks, Ricky once starred in a popular ’90s sitcom called “Gordy’s Home” as a child. The show’s titular character was played by a chimpanzee, and most of the time, he was absolutely adorable and charming on camera.
However, things took a dark turn during an episode about Gordy’s birthday. The other characters, including a young Ricky (Jacob Kim) as Mickey, present him with colorful, neatly-wrapped presents. Co-star Mary Jo Elliott (as Haley, played by Sophia Coto) surprises Gordy with a giant gift at the last minute. When the box is opened, bright helium balloons float up into the rafters. One balloon pops as it hits a hot lamp, triggering Gordy into a fit of rage.
Gordy screeches and attacks the other cast members, pulverizing them with his bare hands. He is soon drenched in blood. He takes a breather and rips off his cardboard birthday hat. His eyes swiftly shift and land upon Ricky, who is now fearfully hunkered down beneath the dinner table. Gordy slowly approaches but spares his life, instead reaching out a bloodied knuckle for a fist bump. Ricky reciprocates the gesture just as armed guards show up and shoot Gordy in the head. Blood splatters across the screen. It’s A visceral sequence that is punctuated with a cruel, devastating ending.
Childhood Trauma — Get Out
The most brutal moment in “Get Out” has nothing to do with physical violence. After taking a midnight stroll, Chris encounters Missy sitting in the dark. She flicks on a nearby lamp and invites him to take a seat for a quick chat about his nicotine addiction. A crafty hypnotist, Missy lures Chris into a false sense of security and uses the scraping of her metal spoon against a teacup to hypnotize him. He’s not fully aware of it at first, and that begins the film’s most frightening sequence.
The scraping spoon soothes Chris into an incapacitated state. He becomes as paralyzed as he was the day was killed in a car accident. Missy feeds like a leech on his vulnerable emotional state. Her questioning about that ill-fated day grows increasingly cruel. Frozen in time, Chris can do nothing but let the emotions pour forth. Tears stain his cheeks, and his face becomes more pained and desperate. Kaluuya delivers a profound performance worthy of the best in horror history.
It’s an emotionally pulverizing scene to watch. “Sink!” Missy finally whispers, casting him into the Sunken Place. Chris is detached from his physical form and floats deep into the dark, cold recesses of his subconscious. Despite moments of physical brutality later in the film, nothing compares to this moment of sheer emotional terror.
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