Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, Brandon Perea, Wrenn Schmidt, Barbie Ferreira, Keith David
Run Time: 130 mins
Nope is the third directorial effort from Jordan Peele, who so far is two-for-two with horror films Get Out and Us. Nope sees Peele branch out from horror somewhat, as his latest is also infused with science fiction, the Western and comedy.
Daniel Kaluuya reteams with Peele in the lead role of Otis Jr “OJ” Haywood. He’s a quiet rancher who works with his father (Keith David), both descendants of the black horse rider in Eadward Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion.
Unfortunately, OJ’s father is not in the film for very long due to a freak accident. OJ and his sister, Emerald “Em” Haywood, inherit the ranch. Em isn’t particularly bothered about the ranch but OJ is desperate to keep the business afloat and maintain his father’s legacy. OJ doesn’t think his father’s death was a freak accident and is concerned with a cloud that hovers near the house that doesn’t seem to move.
Intertwined with the Haywood’s story is Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) who runs a small Western themed park called Jupiter’s Claim. Jupe has a past of his own and buys OJ’s horses that he can’t afford to keep.
Nope is an original but flawed third film from Peele. It’s a multi-layered story that explores themes such as spectacle, the media, fantasy and the art of filmmaking. It’s definitely a film to go in blind. Unfortunately, Nope doesn’t fully work with its splicings of genre and it struggles in its pacing – it’s probably around 15 minutes overlong and it never really hooks you in.
However, Peele is certainly able to craft suspense and tension and there are some excellent, subversive scares in the film. There’s some really striking and arresting images, too, as we have come to expect from the director.
Peele attempts to emulate the sci-fi of Steven Spielberg at times, with particular references to Close Encounters With The Third Kind. Some of the imagery is also indebted to Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival.
Peele’s flirting with the Western and comedy is less assured. Many of the gags didn’t work for me and save for the stunning vistas of the California setting against the valleys and the exploration of marginalised races, it lacks grit and Jupe’s storyline and theme park are clumsily handled at best.
Kaluuya is reliably great as OJ, an introverted but principled rancher. Keke Palmer doesn’t fare as well and her character is grating, but that is arguably by Peele’s design. Steve Yeun made such a strong impression in Minari last year and he does the best with what he’s got, but Jupe’s story arc is very messy in terms of how it fits with the overarching narrative.
The score by Michael Abels is typically strong, ranging from other-worldly foreboding horror riffs to Western infusions. The film is beautifully shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, who captures the spectacle of the wide vistas, through to immersive blood-drenched, nighttime horror.
Nope is an interesting watch and despite its shortcomings, it’s subversive and thrillingly original. After a first viewing, you’ll need to ponder the various meanings and storyline and it’s a film that’s designed to be rewatched. Having seen the film twice, it still didn’t flow quite as succinctly as Peele’s first two films and its mashings of four genres feels awkward. It lacks the visceral punch of Get Out or the tension of Us‘ home invasion. There’s certainly a lot of positives and many of the arresting images have stuck with me but Nope is ultimately a better film to discuss than it is to experience.