Nope – Movie Review

Nope

  • Director: Jordan Peele
  • Writers: Jordan Peele
  • Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wilcott, Keith David

Grade: B+

In just three feature films as a director, Jordan Peele has enjoyed a noticeable upgrade in virtually every aspect of his production scale. His reputation as an exciting auteur of genre filmmaking has similarly skyrocketed. Get Out was a left-field cultural smash that garnered critical and popular attention and won Peele an Oscar for its screenplay. 2019’s Us received similar praise but steered more sharply into its horror trappings while still making a unique statement on class. Now comes Nope, a sci-fi/horror blend that manages to have a lot on its mind but never manages to bring it all together cohesively.

Nope is undoubtedly Peele’s most ambitious work to date. Its $68 million budget eclipses the combined bankroll of Get Out and Us. It’s also more heavily reliant on special effects, and enjoys a grander production design – both of which make this worth seeing on the IMAX screens it was made for. And yet, the film doesn’t feel bloated; Peele is still working with a relatively small cast that includes Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, and Michael Wilcott. Nope is also Peele’s longest film, clocking in at almost twenty minutes longer than Us, which leads to the primary issue with the film: the first two acts feel like they’re building to a grand finale that doesn’t live up to the thematic potential it presents.

Nope; Universal

What sets Peele apart from most modern horror filmmakers is his ability to blend so many different tones successfully, while still making profound statements on issues like racial tensions or class inequality. Nope feels like Peele’s twisted love letter to moviemaking, though his undertones are a little more difficult to parse out this time around. Specifically, the film deals with two conflicting approaches to today’s entertainment industry. Our heroes are OJ (Kaluuya) and Emerald (Palmer) Haywood, owners of a Hollywood horse farm, and descendants of the black man riding the horse that produced the first moving image. OJ desperately wants to keep the family business alive, but can’t seem to make ends meet unless he sells his horses to the nearby amusement park Jupiter’s Claim, run by Ricky Park (Yeun). 

In one of the film’s most curious detours, Ricky was a former child star on a sitcom that starred a monkey who suddenly snapped one day and attacked most of the cast and crew. While I found these scenes confusing initially, I think they provide the key to unlock what Peele wants to say about fame, infamy, and the ways we exploit it and are exploited by it. Peele’s camerawork also continues to improve, as he allows us to imagine the horrors happening off-screen in the flashback scenes of the brutal massacre. He also provides some exquisite sequences that mostly involve a character looking up at the sky, waiting for the alien “spaceship” to appear. These moments aren’t necessarily scary, but they show that Peele is able to effectively ratchet up the tension until it reaches its boiling point.

Nope; Universal

Kaluuya naturally channels his character’s reluctance for the spotlight, and his longing for the older, simpler days of training horses with his father (Keith David). And Keke Palmer, already a reliable supporting performer, steals the spotlight as Emerald, a young woman with too many side hustles to keep track of, who’d rather focus on promoting the business through flashy commercial pitches. If anyone is underserved by the film, it’s Yeun, the former Oscar nominee who isn’t given nearly enough meat to chew on despite his high billing status.

Those going into Nope hoping for a scare-fest with a high body count will likely leave disappointed, though the finale is an ambitious action set piece unlike anything Peele has filmed before. A less ambitious filmmaker would use this conceit to decry Hollywood’s modern filmmaking methods, but Peele lets you arrive at your own conclusions without holding your hand. One of Peele’s smartest thematic decisions is in OJ and Emerald’s ultimate goal. They don’t seek so much to destroy the monster as much as capture it on film to provide proof that it’s actually real. To do so, they enlist the aid of Brandon Perea’s Angel, a Frye’s Electronics employee, and Michael Wilcott’s Antlers Holst, a cinematographer.

Nope; Universal

Despite its extended runtime, the film is rarely boring, and contains Peele’s signature ability to hide its message in plain sight. It’s just that the pay-off to its extended build-up isn’t as instantly satisfying as audiences (myself included) will likely hope for.

The secret weapon of films like Get Out and Us (this critic’s personal favorite of Peele’s films) is their rewatchability. Nope doesn’t initially have this to the same degree, but there are much worse ways to spend $20 at the movies today. Make no mistake, at the end of the day, this is unquestionably a Jordan Peele film, combining great humor – if you thought he wouldn’t slip in a white person’s reaction to OJ’s name, you’re in the wrong theater – with genuine excitement. Better, more cohesive tributes to film have surely been made, but they haven’t been nearly as unique or fun as Peele has made with Nope.

Nope will be available exclusively in theaters on July 22.

OSCAR POTENTIAL:

  • This is tough. Peele famously whiffed with Us, despite his aforementioned success with Get Out. The sound design in Nope is excellent, and a nomination there would surely be deserved.
  • Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is great here as well, and he’s a proven commodity that could garner attention from the Academy.
  • The Academy is full of scaredy-cats when it comes to nominating genre fare, so don’t expect any nominations for Peele’s screenplay or direction.

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