Nope (2022)
Nope (2022)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.

Release Date: July 22nd, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jordan Peele Actors: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Wrenn Schmidt, Keith David

 


 

W

hen Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David), owner of reputable film and television horse-wrangling outfit Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, perishes from falling shrapnel, his company and his children’s futures are thrown into disarray. Six months later, Otis Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) contemplates selling the flagging business to child-star-turned-entrepreneur Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), while his flighty, irresponsible sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) plans on leaving behind the dusty, remote town of Agua Dulce, California. But when the siblings witness an inexplicable phenomenon near their ranch, Emerald recognizes the financial potential, setting into motion plans to catch the encounter on camera. Recruiting surveillance equipment specialist Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and eccentric cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) to help document the event, Otis and Emerald embark on a dangerous quest to successfully film the enigma: an alien spaceship.

Opening with a foreboding quote (from the bible, of course, which boasts the preeminent source of countless ghastly sayings), bizarre imagery (which eventually becomes meaningful), and a heap of blood for good measure, “Nope” sets the stage for undeniable unease. Producer/writer/director Jordan Peele clearly wants to scare his audience, but he’s smart enough not to reveal all the visual frights too soon; cleverly, he wishes to let viewers anticipate the horrors to come through foreshadowing and a specific atmosphere. Nerve-wracking sound effects and eerie music (like in his previous picture “Us”) also come to his aid, while the story proper wastes no time in its introduction of disaster and doom.

Brilliantly, “Nope” establishes early on that anything can happen. When supernatural elements are at play, there are no rules; when it’s least expected, outrageous visuals are sure to manifest. The down-to-earth sensibility of “Get Out” doesn’t restrict the actions here, as a spaceship sighting immediately suggests that extraterrestrial terrors are hovering on the horizon. Of course, with the director’s very normal, unexceptional collection of relatably human protagonists (all unlikely heroes, which makes them that much more realistic), exploiting otherworldly situations for money is a believable first reaction – perhaps more than standard fear. “Maybe you’re in a UFO hotspot.”

Peele expectedly presents commentary on black experiences, not only with the specifics here of running a business (complete with familial infighting and disparate approaches to revenue and negotiation), but also with the comically stereotypical notion that black people would respond differently to horror scenarios than their white counterparts (an idea used to great comedic effect on numerous occasions, while also lending to the title). But it’s somewhat subtler than in his previous works, instead focusing predominantly on the universal concerns of loss, grief, coping mechanisms, trauma, responsibility, and sacrifice. The characters must contend with emotional hurdles just as much as assaults by alien invaders.

Also fascinating is the fact that Peele again opts for a small group of leads, painting an intimate portrayal of man versus monster, very much along the lines of “Jaws” – while never completely ignoring the larger implications, like in “The War of the Worlds” (which itself steadily narrowed the perspective from widespread to the plight of few). And he sets the conflict in a genre-bending arena, using an unfrequented ranch as a backdrop for thrills. Amplifying the suspense is the auteur’s dependable use of humor, sharply contrasting the freakishness, generating hilariously creepy interactions and laugh-out-loud funny jump-scares. Intermittent flashbacks are marginally disappointing, though they punctuate the main plot with shocks and blood, making the most of jarring editing – some of which underlines the gimmicky nature of editing itself.

The film carries on a touch too long, but there’s never really a dull moment. Peele’s recurring symbolism (and nods to other properties), his use of pop culture components (from the modernity of the music and technology to the wacky, flailing, inflatable tube men at the climax), and the hubris of the characters he defines as mad artists (or well-intentioned commoners with insatiable curiosity) are all striking inclusions that transform an array of frightening occurrences into a balanced adventure of transcendental confrontations and lessons on the astonishing uncertainty of the cosmos. Most effective of all, however, is the unpredictable nature of his storytelling and moviemaking; it’s hypnotically nightmarish (but peppered with hilarity, alternating chills with feel-good valiance), highly original (a difficult feat for this era of cinema), and thoroughly entertaining – both as a rollercoaster ride and a popcorn flick.

– The Massie Twins

  • 8/10