When a movie starts with a title card with the line, “I’ll throw horrid filth on you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle,” you know you’re in for a wild ride.
Those familiar with director Jordan Peele’s earlier feature films – Get Out and Us – will also know better than to dismiss that Bible passage as pretentious scaremongering. Nearly every frame in Nope has been carefully crafted to reveal more about the film’s deceptively simple premise, and it’s this penchant for the ambiguous that has made Peele one of the most exciting – and divisive – filmmakers working today. .
Nope is his boldest vision yet; a 135-minute horror comedy that delights, surprises and sometimes frustrates, but unmistakably remains the work of its groundbreaking maker.
Cowboys and Aliens
As we have come to expect from Peele, Nope is a film whose plot is difficult to summarize without falling into spoiler territory. But we’re going to try anyway.
Things begin when Hollywood horse hunters OJ (Black Panther’s Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Lightyear’s Keke Palmer) become convinced that a UFO-like creature has taken up residence in the skies above their California ranch. Despite the one-time legendary status of their family business, the pair are forced to sell horses to former child star and local amusement park owner Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Stephen Yeun), whose own fascination with a cloud-dwelling alien is OJ and Emerald on a mission. to capture the elusive creature on video.
Sure, there’s a lot more nuance to Nope’s story — it’s quickly revealed, for example, that Yeun’s Jupe is the lone survivor of an executive chimpanzee attack — but on a superficial level, this is a movie that borrows a lot from Steven Spielberg’s classic creature traits. .
As such, Nope emphasizes clever camerawork rather than whip-smart dialogue in its attempt to scare the audience at what lurks in the dark. Regular Christopher Nolan cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema – who shot the film with a suite of 15/65mm IMAX film cameras – is on hand to ensure that the sense of scale is nothing short of spectacular, and Peele regularly plays with the grandeur of his classically Western setting. (think open spaces and clouds of dust) in a way that sets Nope apart from the director’s first two feature films.
To their credit, both Kaluuya and Palmer manage to avoid being swallowed up by the film’s all-encompassing geography. The first is one of those rare actors who can arouse emotion with just his eyes, and here Kaluuya gives his most ocular performance since Get Out, often staring and staring with a typically chilling effect.
Palmer, however, gives Nope a completely different dimension: humor. Emerald is without a doubt the film’s most lovable character, his supernatural happenings swells with all the confidence of a future movie star (in stark contrast to Kaluuya’s OJ, who clearly smothers her ruthless enthusiasm), and Palmer is never less than compelling in a role that could have been played as easily as cliché.
A special nod must also go to the Nope’s truly excellent sound design, which more than matches its obvious sci-fi inspirations (Close Encounters, Jaws and War of the Worlds are particularly well represented here).
Peel back the layers
So technically, Nope is a marvel – a film that only Top Gun: Maverick rivals for pure cinematic spectacle in 2022. But behind its bag of audiovisual tricks hides an even bigger bag of allegorical ideas, and it’s in this regard that Nope occasionally tests patience.
Again, it’s hard to elaborate without revealing the film’s biggest surprises, but Peele shows his audience quite a lot in just over two hours without returning to or building on plot beats that deserve more screen time.
Characters come and go in an almost shift-like cadence – only OJ and Emerald remain the focus the entire time, while Yeun’s Jupe, Michael Wincott’s Antlers and other interesting people make little more than cameo appearances. Heck, Euphoria’s Barbie Ferreira appears for a matter of seconds before disappearing forever. The result, as each new face represents a larger piece of social commentary – as everyone and everything does in Nope – is that Peele’s metaphorical line gets clouded.
Of course, this reluctance to eat with the spoon is a feature of the director’s work. His films encourage questioning and foster interrogation – it’s all part of their fun. But Nope’s symbolism is so varied and unforgiving that the experience as a whole is particularly hard to digest. The film’s script is packed with allusions to race, art, trauma, and exploitation, but the combination doesn’t result in a cohesive story.
Nope’s last shot sums up this feeling nicely. It’s striking, moving, beautifully orchestrated and clearly figurative – but the nature of the metaphor is frustratingly hard to pin down.
Still, die-hard Peele fans will inevitably pick up on Nope’s various meditations, and Peele himself deserves a lot of credit for positioning himself as the only contemporary Hollywood director who could commercialize a film like this.
Despite the emptiness of its Western setting, Nope – for better or for worse – is an exceptionally busy blockbuster. Jordan Peele delivers on the mind-bending promise of his previous features to deliver a bold and intelligent sci-fi adventure that demands a big-screen viewing experience.
The ambiguity is sure to frustrate some, and several characters deserved more involvement, but Nope is an undeniably enjoyable ride and a fitting part of the canon of post-pandemic cinema.
Nope now plays exclusively in theaters worldwide.