This is director Jordan Peele’s most ambitious film, and he fully succeeds. It is Jaws for the modern day. It is a masterwork of science fiction and horror.
You can tell you’re in for a crazy trip when a title card for a movie begins, “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle.”
Those who have seen Get Out and Us filmmaker Jordan Peele’s prior films will also know better than to dismiss that Biblical scripture as pompous scaremongering. Nope’s nearly every scene is purposefully planned to provide additional information about the film’s deceptively straightforward idea, and it’s this fondness for ambiguity that has made Peele one of the most intriguing – and contentious – directors working today.
His most audacious vision to date, Nope is a 135-minute horror-thriller that shocks, charms, and occasionally irritates while staying undeniably the creation of its boundary-pushing creator.
In the film Nope, horse trainer/wrangler Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) makes a concerted effort to avoid eye contact in order to evade the murderous attentions of whatever skybound entity is terrorizing his California ranch. OJ’s family, which also includes his tragic father Otis Sr. (Keith David) and fame-hungry sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), take great pride in marketing themselves as the direct heirs of the unnamed jockey who appeared in Eadweard Muybridge’s early photographs of riders and horses in the late 19th century. Although financially suffering OJ may be forced to sell their horses to former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), who operates a local theme park, the Haywood ranch . However, an enigmatic occurrences in the sky offer either an unanticipated chance or a “bad miracle.”
On the surface, this movie looks a lot like Steven Spielberg’s old-school monster films.
As a result, Nope prioritizes clever camerawork above razor-sharp speech in an effort to frighten viewers with what lurks in the shadows. Peele frequently plays to the grandeur of his classically Western surroundings in a way that sets Nope apart from his first two films. Hoyte van Hoytema, a regular Christopher Nolan cinematographer, is on hand to ensure that the film’s sense of scale is nothing short of spectacular.
Kaluuya and Palmer both escape getting engulfed by the film’s expansive landscape. Being one of the few performers who can convey emotion just via their eyes, Kaluuya provides his most intensely ocular performance since Get Out, constantly glaring and gazing to create his signature chills.
Palmer, though, adds a completely new layer to Nope: comedy. With all the assurance of a would-be movie star, Emerald is without a question the movie’s most endearing character, and Palmer never fails to be engaging in a part that could have easily come off as cliched.
The Nope’s really exceptional sound design also deserves a special mention since it more than matches its blatantly evident sci-fi influences (Close Encounters, Jaws and War of the Worlds are particularly well-represented here).
It’s difficult to discuss without giving away the movie’s greatest surprises, but in little over two hours, Peele manages to show his viewers a lot without revisiting or expanding upon story points that need more time onscreen.
Characters appear and disappear in a rhythm that resembles a shift. Only cameo roles are given to performers like Yeun’s Jupe, Michael Wincott’s Antlers, and other intriguing people. Heck, Barbie Ferreira from Euphoria only shows up for a little period before vanishing. Since everyone and everything in Nope implies a broader societal criticism, the outcome is that Peele’s metaphorical through line gets muddled.
Jordan Peele delivers on the puzzling promise of his earlier films to create a daring and intelligent sci-fi adventure that begs to be seen on a wide screen.
Nope is an absolutely entertaining trip and a suitable addition to the pantheon of post-pandemic film, despite the ambiguity that will undoubtedly annoy some viewers and the fact that a few characters deserved more attention.