Movie Review: ‘Nope’

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Keith David

Plot: In an isolated rural area a family of animal wranglers become aware of an unidentified flying object appearing frequently in the area. Looking to capitalise on this phenomenon, they plan on capturing the perfect, world breaking shot to prove the existence of alien life.

Review: I don’t even know where to begin here. There’s plenty to enjoy watching Nope. Jordan Peele creates an intriguing mystery packed with striking visuals and complex sound design. When it came time for the credits to roll, however, we weren’t sure how satisfied we were with the experience. Since Get Out and Us we’ve come to have a pretty high expectations for Peele’s movies, and we appreciate that he’s serving us another curve ball, but there’s some aspects of the script that didn’t feel like it served the movie as a whole.

The story focuses the action on the ranch of the Haywood family, horse trainers and wranglers who provide animals for film and TV shoots. Haywood Sr. (David) dies under unusual circumstances when a coin falls from the sky and pierces through his eye, leaving his son OJ (Kaluuya) managing the business while his sister Em (Palmer) pursues more glamorous goals. They are struggling to keep the ranch open, and have to field offers from near-by Western theme park owner Jupe (Yuen). OJ survives by selling horses to Jupe, but is unable to sustain the wrangling side of the business. This changes when he spies an unusual craft hovering over the area. Together with Em, they work on trying to capture conclusive proof of alien life – what they call the ‘Oprah shot’.

Over the course of their mission they recruit tech expert Angel (Perea) and renown cinematographer Antlers Holst (Wincott), each of whom have their own motivation for getting involved. We also learn about Jupe’s experience as a child actor once involved in a tragedy wherein a performing chimpanzee goes crazy and viciously attacked those around him. It’s a while into the film that we learn his true role in this adventure, as he has his own agenda surrounding the strange happenings in the skies above them that greatly contrasts with how OJ and Em see the situation. We are tying to keep this spoiler free, if that’s not apparent from the awkward prose here.

Thematically there’s a through-line of exploitation in creating entertainment for the masses. Jupe’s backstory gives us a formerly common trope of a performing chimp being used for comedy, only for him to panic due to a popping balloon. In the modern setting we see the Haywood’s struggling to get people to respect their horses when using them for film, with the animals only being viewed as an asset to be manipulated. We see this type of exploitation coming into play with how Jupe and OJ approach the UFO situation, and it factors into how their stories play out. This gets linked to the history of Hollywood as the Haywood siblings are established as the descendants of the jockey who appeared in the first example of a motion picture, reflecting on the long history of Black people being exploited for entertainment and their history in their field being buried or reappropriated by Hollywood.

Peele has demonstrated that he loves a good, strong visual and dollops of symbolism and he is not holding back on those elements here. There are recurring appearances of coins and flags, Jupe’s career as a child actors references many past family films and TV shows, and the evocative image of the house being drenched in blood is delightfully haunting. There’s something of a coyness to the camera, keeping some things just outside of frame while the characters hide in fear. It’s effective and calls back to the themes of exploitative cinema, as the characters are forced to avert their eyes to bring an end to the practise.

In addition to producing strong visuals, Peele also brings out great performances from his cast. Kaluuya as OJ is a deeply stoic character, often avoiding eye contact with people and unwilling to raise his voice. This can be attributed to his experiences training horses, as he warns people not to look the horses in the eye or make sudden noises on set. In stark contrast is Em, who is boisterous and ambitious, and part of this movie involves them having to come back together after the loss of their father. They’re both on great form leading this ensemble, and feel like a unique pair in a genre film.

Whilst all the individual elements of the film are strong, the glue holding them all together is on the weaker side. The cinematographer character is basically a background character up until he suddenly isn’t just ahead of the final act. The Gordy side-plot is somewhat awkwardly inserted to provide detailed character development that doesn’t have any follow-up later in the film. There are a couple of intercut titles, splitting the film into sections named after different animals and it doesn’t add much to the experience.

This is a unique take on something we don’t see much of anymore – flying saucers over the Earth. It’s an odd sci-fi outing exploring a different set of ideas for the genre. Worth a look.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN