It was only five years ago comedian/writer Jordan Peele burst onto the big screen with his hit Oscar-winning horror, Get Out. Peele paired with up-and-coming star Daniel Kaluuya to excite audiences with proper scares and biting social commentary on a budget of merely 4.5 million dollars. Two years later, Us (2019) dipped deeper into the scares and thematic critiques, matching exactly the 255M gross of Peele’s debut, though dividing audiences a tad more. Now Peele reunites with Kaluuya, backed by his his biggest budget yet to the tune of 68M, and bringing a rapidly-growing fanbase into new territory with a sunny sci-fi/horror foray.
Making a name for himself through two wildly popular sketch comedy shows, it’s no question whether Peele has comedic chops. What seemed to grab movie-goers was his sorely needed perspective and surprising penchant for intelligent horror. Peele has quickly carved himself a niche in modern horror, as the laughs are every bit as exciting as the jumps. Often times, you’re not sure which one will come next. Nope might be his funniest script yet, bolstered by hilarious turns from both Keke Palmer and Brandon Perea. Kaluuya’s OJ Haywood, great-great-great descendent of the first man to ever be captured on film, plays a stoic Hollywood rancher. And while throughout much of the movie he’s nearly monosyllabic, some of his moments had the packed audience laughing harder than any other.
Where the question lied was whether the enigmatic lead-up to the release would live up to the hype. What exactly is the mystery and where might commentary be found within? Acts one and two show exactly why there is so much excitement surrounding Nope. The core characters and eerie conundrum are crafted with tantalizing patience. Never in the 130-minute runtime does it feel slow or meandering. It’s only a matter of “where is this heading?” Early in the set-up OJ experiences a (gut-wrenching) tragedy, and he hasn’t felt right since. The fatal accident that befell his farm has left him questioning what exactly happened on that day. When his sister Em visits to assist in the family business in the remote hills, OJ becomes more confident in his suspicions as they experience power outages and their horses begin to act up. There’s something out there in the clouds, and whatever it is, it ain’t of this planet. Inspired with newfound confidence and purpose -amidst the ever-present fear of what lurks above, that is – the Haywood siblings and their local techie Angel set out to capture footage of the elusive anomaly.
At many points Nope feels like an amalgam of horror classics such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Signs, and Tremors, combining the joy and the tension of all three for an enervating venture into the unknown. The various scares leading up to the finale are well-crafted and, even better, exquisitely shot. The fluid movement of the camera in the night scenes especially gift a natural immersion, showing brief but clear snippets of the danger floating about while compounding them with a sense of disorientation. Hoyt Van Hoytema’s stellar cinematography is easily the biggest strength next to the laughs. But by the time the climax arrives, the breathtaking shots aren’t quite enough to distract one from wondering what exactly the character’s motives are at this point. It becomes a little unclear after a while what the impromptu team are hoping to achieve. It may require more time and subsequent viewings to digest what Peele wants us to feel during the resolution. It’s for this reason that while I have no problem saying Peele is 3/3, Nope is still a minor step down from Peele’s first two projects. With a few major tweaks to the script in the third act to more clearly illustrate character motivations, Nope might have matched the greatness of Get Out for its sheer creativity and beauty alone.
On a more positive note, Steven Yeun shows once again why he should be a prime target when looking to add charm and gravitas. Aside from the main siblings, Yeun’s character Ricky has one of the more intriguing horror side plots in recent years. One that will have fans chatting and theorizing over for years. Yeun rounds out a once-again superb cast in a Peele movie. The score, while not groundbreaking, is another worthy mention, most notably apparent during the fantastical, bright culmination. I look forward to seeing it again to pry further into Peele’s symbology and intentions, including his numerous nods to the less heralded crewmembers on film projects. There is plenty for everyone to chew on, and likely an abundance of different interpretations for everyone to walk away with as well. And knowing Peele, he won’t consider any of them wrong.
Nope comes in at 690/2630 (74%) on my Flickchart!