Even though Jordan Peele only started his path as a director five years ago, you have to be insane to not be in high anticipation whenever a new, original project comes our way. He really made a new name for himself in the horror genre with his box office hits Get Out (2017) and Us (2019). I loved Get Out, his directorial debut, more now than when I first saw it in theaters. It resulted in being one of the most remarkable films to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. And while Us wasn’t that well-liked by audiences, I thought it was a great follow-up that doesn’t need to get hated on then and now. Who knew what this mastermind would come through next with his third feature film, Nope, that strays away from his usual commentary on the world and delivers a science fiction spectacle only to his vision, for better or worse.
Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer star together as siblings OJ and Emerald Haywood. They’re a part of a California horse ranch called Haywood Hollywood Horses as animal wranglers for television and film who inherited the failing business after their father (Keith David) died six months after being struck from falling debris. The ranch is right near the town’s local tourist attraction, Jupiter’s Claim, run by former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park, where an offering to purchase the farm might make ends meet. One night, things get strange as their electricity goes off, and OJ quickly realizes he spotted an unidentified flying object (UFO) surrounding the area, hiding in the clouds. Suspicious to an enormous degree, the two of them get the idea of actually capturing the unexplained object on camera to make a lot of money and be remembered for years to come.
Because his name is enough to get people to buy tickets, I just needed to watch the first official trailer. That meant keeping my eyes away from any new footage in the past month, despite knowing the mystery would surround it. Like his last two films showing why he’s a filmmaker with his own style, Nope will be another to be brought up in various conversations about what it all means while making us terrified of looking up at the sky. But leaving the theater, I definitely walked out enjoying my time with what Peele offered this time, but knowing full well on first viewing, this is probably the weakest in his filmography thus far. That’s not to say it’s bad because, let me assure you, it wasn’t.
Watching Peele stepping into the side of sci-fi more so than horror made me believe he always had a more grounded film up his sleeves with his most significant budget, yet that you totally see it carries shades of classic aliens films Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Signs that quickly come to mind. And you can tell his style of bringing this story to life made him channel his inner Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan during his early days, proving he’s capable of doing more when he wants to. Even with the $68 million budget he’s working with, he didn’t need to make everything into his settings highly sealed up to keep you engaged in the preliminary plan. I wasn’t entirely hooked around the first half, where it felts almost meandering in its pacing and setting up everybody. But, I think once we got to the start of the mystery afoot was when it grabbed my attention onward after that.
Perhaps the reason Nope doesn’t rate highly (as of right now) is that I felt the screenplay wasn’t as strong as I had hoped. That’s what I assumed the theme is throughout since partially every one of us finds this sudden obsession we typically crave in life for amusement. We’re guilty of what’s been happening daily, especially online. And that’s probably the main social message coming across. Some will find a deeper meaning I wouldn’t gather. Nothing was too heavy as we’ve seen in Get Out or Us compared to this since it’s easily the most assessable film he’s done that fits perfectly for a summer blockbuster. But was it as thought-provoking as I hoped it would be? Maybe that wasn’t entirely intended despite the originality going for it. And it doesn’t help the surprising lack of added characterization was less than intriguing for a few, and the dialogue.
With that said, you can always expect great performances out of his films no matter what. The day of seeing Kaluuya re-teaming with Peele again has finally come true. His performance as OJ is undoubtedly more quiet and reserved, quite the opposite of Palmer’s energetic Emerald when we first see these two on-screen together. And it was no shock Keke Palmer carried the film and proved to be the standout, finding their sibling dynamic between him and Kaluuya pretty likable that most can relate to if you also have a brother or sister. I didn’t know Brandon Perea before this, as well as others. Still, he was phenomenal as Angel, a Fry Electronics (RIP) sales associate who helps them after setting up surveillance on their ranch. It’s always good to see Michael Wincott as the deep-voiced cinematographer who constantly searches for the perfect shot. Steven Yeun as Ricky Park had little to do. Instead, we got to explore his traumatizing childhood involving cutting back to an intense subplot of this incident with a chimpanzee named Gordy rampaging on a late ’90s sitcom. Although maybe there’s a connection I didn’t get, I had questions about why we kept going back to them and what it added to the story.
The aspect that made this a special effort, albeit not great, is noticing the scope Peele unexpectedly brought to the table here. Like most alien movies, he allows us to feel a sense of unpredictableness of what’s to come, keeping our suspension intact. Part of the charm was the incredible sound work displayed that gave me legit goosebumps anytime you hear the UFO anywhere in the spy, hearing screams and other eerie sounds to freak you out. It’s all about not showing everything but keeping it tense, since we’re seeing this from the perspective of those on the ground. The best sequence I couldn’t stop thinking about in terms of imagery involved two characters inside a house with this cloud hovering over it that made my eyes wide. Worthy of an Oscar nomination. That also matches Michael Abels’ score and stunning cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk, Her) in providing a grand scale perfectly filmed with IMAX cameras. Even when the payoff won’t land for everybody, I don’t think they’ll be any disheartened by an excellent third act in what it means for the genre that had me at the edge of my seat.
Like other movies this past summer, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nope ends up being divisive, probably more so than Peele’s last film, or they’ll call it one of the best this year or a “masterpiece.” I’m not there yet. I had to marinate on this for the rest of the evening to understand what I had just experienced in those two hours, as it was with those who might’ve felt the same way. But even though there’s a chance I’ll appreciate this more with a necessary re-watch in the next month or so, this proves he’s a writer/director going strong in this phase of his career. He’s 3 for 3, which makes his latest still watchable.
Nope might be Jordan Peele’s weakest film, but his act for unnerving tension is enough to consider his dip into a sci-fi thriller enjoyably ambitious. He delivers on a respectable only he can make it worth remembering, and while not everything comes together perfectly, you’ll walk out of the theater still excited to see what this Oscar-winner comes up next in the upcoming years.
Nope was released on July 22, 2022. Runtime: 131 Minutes. Rated R for language throughout and some violence/bloody images. Studio: Universal Pictures.
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