I made an over/under friendly bet going into Nope about how many times the four letter word would be said aloud by the cast of characters. I went with over 25 and was dead wrong – not even close, and the “nah” doesn’t count in this scenario. Pointing fingers at the screen whenever the word is said aloud like Rick Dalton does while watching himself on tv is fun and all but, let’s face it, the real reason why we’re here is for writer, producer, director Jordan Peele’s 3rd feature film. There’s no beginners luck, no he just caught lightning in a bottle, Jordan Peele is the real deal behind the camera, telling stories his way intentionally and unapologetically.
With his 3rd film, Peele is one of the few directors today that understands how to fundamentally build steady tension and anticipated horror throughout his screenplay and film. Once your guard is down, that’s when Peele takes advantage of the situation he creates – the crescendo hits when you least expect it and will knock you off your feet. Nope is but another shining example of Peele’s brilliance as a horror director. Well, elevated thriller and in this film, supernatural sci-fi focused, never settling for a cheap jump scare that takes away from the narrative.
There are a few jump scares but used and placed perfectly to elevate the suspense, supplemented by Michael Abels score, the theme of miracles – bad or good. Though mostly bad, like a shoe standing vertically, characters in this science fiction spectacle fixate on the unidentified visitors to seek answers, or to profit off of them for selfish gain.
Reuniting with Peele is Daniel Kaluuya who stars and plays OJ Haywood, the inherited co-owner of Haywood Hollywood Horse Ranch after his father Otis Sr (Keith David) dies suddenly by falling debris from an air liner. Or so that is the lie told. Otis Sr’s claim to legacy resides in the uncompromising truth that Otis’s great-great-grandfather is the unnamed man in The Horse in Motion pictures. A fascinating old Hollywood folktale performed by Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) weaves its way into an elevator pitched performance of acquired skills Em is capable of handling. She’s even available to run craft services.
Opening the film, however, sets the tone for the uncomfortableness Nope frequently explores. In the 90’s, on a sitcom titled Gordy’s Home, one of the stars of the main cast is a chimpanzee, titularily named Gordy. Fading into a horrific aftermath of something gone wrong, a bad miracle, Peele momentarily let’s you imagine what could have possibly led to this outcome of carnage on screen. But the outcome results in a shift in the industry – the use of live animals like the ones the Haywood’s provide dwindles in numbers leading to money problems in which OJ would consider selling the ranch to Jupe (Steven Yuen) and his wife Amber (Wrenn Schmidt).
Nope solidifies Peele’s versatility in storytelling as it encompasses elements the talented director has used previously in Get Out and Us with the added science fiction flare to the underlying tone. Quickly building up an impressive filmography of original stories that gives a much-needed breather away from the franchise films that are on a reoccurring annual release schedule. And they say there is no originality anymore. For as fresh a film as Nope is, Peele takes what has worked for the genre and lends his own vision and point of view to it. From the marketing we know it’s aliens, but Peele leaves it up to the imagination to fill the gaps – the creatures are never shown on screen but with a plethora of moments that make the faceless visitors formidable yet predictable foes.
I’m quickly reminded of Alien, and the achievement Ridley Scott got out of never showing the villain. We rarely saw the Xenomorph as it stalks the crew of the Nostromo and Ripley but it’s the fear that takes over, looking over your shoulder, keeping your eyes directly off the unidentified flying object so that you can live one more day. One look at the ship disguised as a cloud and a sandstorm gets beamed up into the heart of the ship with enough force to be sent back to earth that can cause significant damage.
Told in chapters with the horse’s names serving as title cards, each horse represents a significant moment in these characters lives – pushing their arcs and development forward with a methodical pace to it that makes 2 hours feel like 30 minutes. Within those 2 hours, Peele has our undivided attention paired along with the outstanding performances by Kaluuya and Palmer. The pairing of Peele and Kaluuya has gone 2 for 2 – both bringing out the best in one another. But with Nope, Keke steals the spotlight with her infectious charm, dance moves and charisma.
Supporting Em and OJ is Angel (Brandon Perea) who oversteps boundaries, installing the cameras for the “Oprah Shot” and quickly becomes a character this story cannot succeed without. Capturing the E.T is cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) (fantastic name) who rounds out the cast searching for his own purpose in capturing the alien ship authentically. The grizzled cinematographer is skeptical, needing actual proof to lend his skill set.
Two directors have released their 3rd films this year respectively – Robert Eggers and Jordan Peele. Both visionary storytellers with unique styles that standout among the crowd of working directors today. Both have very promising careers ahead of them that should be paid close attention to. Jordan Peele delivers on a true old-fashioned Hollywood summer blockbuster that’s an ode to filmmaking and the history behind it. Whatever film comes next for either Eggers or Peele should be an experience that needs to be seen to be believed.
Written By: Jordan Peele
Directed By: Jordan Peele
Music By: Michael Abels
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Wrenn Schmidt, Keith David
Release Date: July 22, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 11 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%