Finally. One of the most anticipated movies of 2022 has arrived in theatres. When your first movie secures an Oscar nomination, expectations tend to trend pretty high. Fortunately, Jordan Peele proved he was no one-hit wonder with his follow-up, Us. Both of Peele’s directorial efforts showed a filmmaker willing to take creative risks while simultaneously exhibiting a keen grasp of fun mainstream movie magic. Early marketing for Peele’s third movie, Nope, was ambiguous. Now we know that this is definitely a UFO movie that appears to be in the same vein as Spielberg’s Close Encounters of Third Kind. And early critical reaction suggest that Peele hasn’t lost any of his magic.
When a bizarre accident results in their father’s death, OJ and Emerald Haywood reunite to keep the family’s struggling Hollywood horse ranch afloat. Six months pass and the siblings notice increasingly strange things from brown outs to the skittish behaviour of their horses. When OJ spots an unnatural object in the skies, he becomes convinced that a UFO has been watching their ranch. Now Emerald and OJ plan to capture that money shot of the UFO for big money without falling victim to whatever is inside it.
Nope Finds Jordan Peele Comfortable With Bigger Scope
Nope instantly feels like a ‘bigger’ movie than either Get Out or Us. In part, writer and director Jordan Peele maps out an ambitious story (more on that below). But the scope of the movie and its action is also necessarily bigger. Its sundrenched California ranch setting and subject matter has Peele framing some big expansive shots. Yet Peele loses nothing with this bigger screen and immediately seems comfortable creating big screen spectacle. Of course, the effects and visual design team score a big assist. Both the design itself and conceptualization of the movie’s alien feels fresh. And Peele knows how to use the screen and tease things out before fully letting them loose. At just over two hours, Nope expertly builds to its climax playing on audience’s early curiosity and then ratcheting things up.
Yet Peele loses nothing with this bigger screen and immediately seems comfortable creating big screen spectacle.
Like his previous effort, Peele capably balances scares, tension, humour, and heart without missing a beat. The movie’s opening Gordy’s Home scene, which Peele re-visits and expands upon at different points, is brutally disturbing. Peele keeps the worst of the scene offscreen, knowing full well that what you don’t see often is more frightening. Later scenes at Jupiter’s Claim and a nighttime invasion at the Haywood ranch are among the most tense horror movie scenes in recent memory. By the time Nope strides into its climax Peele has you in the palm of his hands. There’s plenty of edge-of-your-seat suspense showing that Peele’s move to a ‘bigger movie’ never comes at the expense of his attention to detail.
Nope May Try to Do a Bit Too Much With Its Story, But Never Falters
Where Nope finds Peele somewhat stumbling is the scope of its story. At its heart, Nope is the tale of the strained relationship between a brother and sister. And this is the story thread that feels most richly developed by the move’s conclusion. Both Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya deliver outstanding performances ensuring you’re fully invested in their characters’ fate. While Palmer gets the more dynamic character, Kaluuya really gets to shine playing the quieter OJ Haywood. It’s a subtle but confident performance that allows for a satisfying character arc. Peele also seems to have something to say about Black contributions to movie-making and American culture more generally and its dismissal from history. If so, Nope loses the subtext as it satisfies its ‘bigger movie’ obligations.
…Kaluuya really gets to shine playing the quieter OJ Haywood. It’s a subtle but confident performance that allows for a satisfying character arc.
Conversely, Peele more successfully fleshes out another idea about our cultural fascination with screens, watching things, and turning trauma into spectacle. Nope opens with an obscure biblical quote from Nahum 3:6 promising to “cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle”. Peele’s most obvious references to this idea come in the form of OJ’s discovery that making eye contact with the alien puts you in danger. And then there’s OJ’s flip phone and Antlers Holst’s (played by the always wonderful Michael Wincott) use of analog camera that further comment on our need to watch and share. Less obvious is Steven Yuen’s (Mayhem, The Walking Dead) Jupiter and his Gordy subplot. Yuen’s ‘Jupiter’ can’t talk directly about his traumatic past – instead he describes the SNL skit based on the event.
Nope Confirms Jordan Peele as a Generational Filmmaker
Maybe Nope doesn’t quite reach the heights of Get Out or Us. But that’s nitpicking at little details. Regardless Jordan Peele has once again created a thoughtful, riveting movie experience for audiences that thrills and chills in equal measures. Unlike Get Out – and arguably more like Us – Nope brims with a lot of ideas. Not all of them feel fully developed. Nonetheless, Nope is a visual spectacle on par with Spielberg – Peele’s grasp of filmmaking magic consistently impresses. Even if not everything Peele wants to say sinks in, audiences will walk away feeling blown away and satisfied but what’s on the screen. Bottom line, Nope continues Peele’s winning streak as a filmmaker