For horror die-hards, nothing can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong movie or show can leave you miserable. Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies and shows, comparing them with classics along a 10-point scale. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each story’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore.
This time up, the Scaredy Scale is taking on Nope, Jordan Peele’s long-awaited, mystery-shrouded follow-up to Get Out and Us. Peele’s past history naturally sets the bar high for his new movie, and with the movie’s plot kept under wraps, it’s hard to know what else to expect. For whether Nope lives up to Peele’s other movies, you’ll have to consult the reviews, but if the question is whether you can make it through the whole thing without cringing to death, the Scaredy Scale can help.
The first thing you need to know about Nope is that Nope is not a horror movie. It certainly has elements that are creepy and frightening and downright unnerving, but Peele spends long stretches just hanging out with the characters where they’re in no apparent danger at all. He does throw in a few gratuitous jump scares, like when one character’s co-worker sneaks up behind him at a big box electronics store, but they play almost like inside jokes, or an acknowledgment that you’re probably not watching the movie you thought you were going to get. If anything, the movie is almost anti-suspenseful, playing out some of its biggest revelations through abrupt cuts rather than a slow build. (Fair warning: what’s on the other side of those cuts can be pretty horrifying.) Once the movie’s primary threat has been firmly established, the elaborately staged climax plays out as an extended suspense setpiece, but it’s not really what drives the movie as a whole.
The barely audible dissonant creaks under Nope’s opening scene of Daniel Kaluuya and Keith David tending to horses on their dusty California ranch seem to portend an atmosphere of lingering dread. But it becomes clear fairly quickly what we’re dealing with, if not precisely what the aliens who seems to have fixated on the family’s ranch want, and the quest to discover the latter is more scientific than it is supernatural. Peele has also said that after two horror movies starring Black leads, he wanted to make this movie more “about Black joy,” so while Nope has plenty of dark moments, you can expect it to end on a note that’s a little less unsettled and ambiguous than the final frames of Us.
This one is slightly tricky, since the goriest moments in Nope are the ones you don’t quite see. The very first thing you see in the movie is a blood-smeared chimpanzee sitting in the middle of a sitcom set, and although it does get around to divulging the nature of what becomes known as “the Gordy’s Home Incident,” Peele keeps the camera positioned so the grisly doings are just out of sight—if not, unfortunately, out of hearing. (The sound of chimp teeth hitting human flesh is not one that will be easily purged from your memory.) If the sight of blood makes you feel faint, you should probably know that at one point there’s a literal rain of the stuff, but for the most part, Peele somewhat fiendishly makes you come up with the most disturbing images yourself.
This feels like a low score for what turns out to be a pretty great movie, but it’s less a reflection of Nope’s effectiveness than its aims. It’s a sci-fi thriller, part Close Encounters, part Jaws, with a helping of show-business satire and sibling dynamics. Don’t go to Nope expecting to be terrified, or steer clear of it because you don’t like to be—just prepare to be unnerved and a little perplexed, and to be thinking over the questions you’re left with for a good long while.