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Inside how Jordan Peele makes the sky seem scary, even in broad daylight in 'Nope'

Even with a view to the horizon, something sinister can hide in plain sight.

By Benjamin Bullard
Steven Yeun Nope UNIVERSAL YT

Horror movies wrest tons of tension from anticipating what’s around the next dark corner, all but begging audiences to steel themselves for the inevitable jump scare… even when they know it’s coming. But writer and director Jordan Peele says he had a different plan for Nope viewers as they turned their eyes skyward in dread of the alien unknown.

Walking The New York Times through one of the movie’s key scenes as star Daniel Kaluuya (Otis “OJ” Haywood) intrepidly pokes around the film's unnervingly quiet old-west theme park, Peele said his goal was to make viewers as uneasy about what the heavens might be hiding as Steven Spielberg did with the water’s buried terror in Jaws.

**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers for Nope lie ahead. Now’s the time to avert your gaze if you haven’t yet seen the movie!**

Unlike many horror films that mine claustrophobia and tight tracking shots to keep viewers guessing, Nope places OJ out in the open, drawing him toward the epicenter of the fresh destruction wrought by a still-hovering UFO at the Jupiter’s Claim theme park where the movie takes place. “It’s a moment that is very loaded, because we’re watching our character go towards danger,” explains Peele as Kaluuya, in the scene, gingerly surveys the eerily silent chaos:

“…I wanted to have the experience of the pure spectacle...your eyes looking through the clouds to try and find something. This is the sort of sequence that I hoped, and have been told, accesses this sort of fear of the sky that people didn’t know they had before,” Peele says. “The idea was that, if people can leave a movie feeling about the sky the way they felt about the water after Jaws, then I’d be in a prime position to torment them for at least several years.”

Framed by the strange echoes of park proprietor Ricky “Jupe" Park (Steven Yeun), whose voice rings eerily over the PA system, OJ knows he’s exposed in the vulnerable outdoors — especially since the UFO is still up there, disappearing and reemerging among the brooding clouds overhead.

“We hear his voice in sort of a haunting context,” Peele says. “One of these sort of ideas was to kind of conjure the Jonestown incident, and this idea of a sort of cult-like mentality that can take over and things can get out of hand before you even know it…There’s a real dance to the way we’re taking this very simple object and darting it around the sky, giving it a sense of directionality.”

Having a giant screen canvas only adds to the overall feel of being a helplessly vulnerable Earthling, stranded in the middle of the California countryside as a seemingly-malevolent force watches from above. To make the most of its sprawling setting, Nope broke new ground in its genre, becoming the first horror film (via Variety) to shoot in IMAX.

“We shot this on IMAX so we have this just enormous aspect ratio,” Peele explains in scene walkthrough — just as the alien craft zeroes in on OJ’s hiding spot. “…The most amount of IMAX film that you can shoot at any one time without reloading is what we used. And I think that makes it at least tied for the longest IMAX shot.”

Catch Nope now in theaters nationwide — with one watchful eye on the sky, of course.