‘Nope’ Review

To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Nope is a neo-western sci-fi horror film written, directed, and produced by Jordan Peele. Featuring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, and Brandon Perea, Nope is Peele’s third original directorial feature after Get Out and Us. The story follows two siblings, OJ and Emerald, who inherit their father’s horse ranch after he dies in a freak accident. After OJ notices a “UFO” has been hovering around their property at night “abducting” their horses, the duo attempt to capture undeniable video evidence of the craft so that they can become rich and famous.

In 1998, on the set for the in-movie sitcom Gordy’s Home, the chimpanzee actor playing Gordy (Terry Notary) snaps after being startled by the pop of a helium balloon. Gordy maims and murders three of his co-stars along with members of the audience. The show’s youngest actor, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Jacob Kim), watches the horror as he hides under a table, focusing on the strangely upright left shoe of his co-star Mary Jo Elliott (Sophia Coto). Coming to his senses the chimp finds Jupe and extends his hand for a fist bump just before being shot dead by the police.

In the present day, ranch owner Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) trains and handles horses for film and television productions with his son OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and daughter Emerald (Keke Palmer). Otis claims that the unnamed Bahamian jockey in Eadweard Muybridge’s famous The Horse in Motion series of photographs was his great-great-grandfather, Alistair Haywood. When debris inexplicably begins to fall from the sky over the ranch, Otis is struck in the eye by a nickel. OJ rushes his father to the hospital where he dies from his injuries. When OJ returns to the ranch he notices a key stuck in the rear of his father’s horse.

The fact that Jordan Peele turns down studio films so that he can continue to make original horror features is amazing. Like Quentin Tarantino before him, Peele’s films are becoming cinematic events. Audiences are always curious about what he’s working on and when his next project will hit theaters. Even after people see his movies, everyone comes out with a different perspective on the events that took place. The same applies to Nope as I came out enjoying the film and found out that my experience was totally different from some of my colleagues. Creating movies that can be discussed continually beyond their time in theaters is the sign of a great filmmaker.

It’s also great that Peele is sticking with the horror genre and Black leads for his movies. Black representation has always been a problem in horror pictures and when we do show up we rarely survive to the end. Peele has flipped that trope on its head and made Black people the heroes of these spine-chilling tales. Nope is Peele’s second time working with Daniel Kaluuya and stated that they have a report similar to De Niro and Scorsese, who have made nine films together. Kaluuya plans to continue working with Peele whenever he is asked and is available. Kaluuya isn’t the only star turning heads in this feature because Keke Palmer shines bright as Em. Palmer, who briefly worked with Jordan Peele before on Key & Peele, jumped at the chance to star in one of his movies. Whereas OJ is very stoic and reserved Em is charismatic and energetic. They work well as a duo and clearly have a bond going back to their childhood. Their relationship is what drives the story from beginning to end.

After having time to ruminate on this picture I have to say it is Jordan Peele’s best-made movie. (Get Out is still his best story.) Nope looks stunning and unquestionably fits the description of an alien spectacle or Summer blockbuster. It’s clear that Universal gave him the budget and free reign to tell the story he wanted to tell. The cinematography is truly beautiful with Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar) capturing the big open sky and rolling hills of Agua Dulce, California in a way that works for a horror feature as there is no place to hide. Like being stuck out in the open sea, the lack of structure can be terrifying. The film is an homage to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There is a singular “monster” the protagonists are trying to catch that is rarely seen and there is a “UFO” hiding in the clouds around the Haywood ranch. There are also easter eggs to films such as Buck and the Preacher and The Scorpion King as well as anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Akira.

One of the most interesting aspects of Nope is what horrific imagery Peele decides not to show. We can hear Gordy beating his co-stars and ripping their flesh, but his attacks are obstructed by set pieces. We only get to see his blood-soaked body afterward and the knowledge that one of his victims was an 11-year-old girl.  It’s the same with the “UFO.” Peele manages to make it one of the most ghastly things to appear in a horror movie. By combining the fear of being abducted by aliens (alienabductophobia) with the fear of being swallowed whole (vorarephobia) Peele has made a very horrifying alien. A fact that is not confirmed at any point in the movie. When the “UFO” “abducts” an entire crowd of people their fate is made more horrifying knowing that there were children in the audience.

Once again Jordan Peele proves that his direction is the main star of his films. His original elevated films have become a staple in Hollywood and have perhaps saved the genre from obscurity. I give Nope an Excellent 9.5/10. This is a film that requires multiple views to catch all the messages and you still might have a different perspective than other attendants. Hopefully, Jordan Peele reveals his fourth project sooner rather than later!

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