It’s not everyday that Hollywood allows one of its own to reinvent themselves, and for those who have, success isn’t always guaranteed. But in the case of comedian Jordan Peele, his third directorial effort further establishes that humour and horror aren’t that different after all.
As with his previous outings, Get Out and Us, his latest, Nope, doesn’t deal with the usual typical horror of ghosts, demons, zombies or monsters of that type. Masking the psychological study of human behaviour is one unexplained phenomenon that many recognise and understand, even if they don’t believe or subscribe to strange sightings, UFO conspiracies and extraterrestrial heebee jeebees.
All of which is set against a Western cowboy backdrop – horses, a range, a county fair, lots of fringe, denim, cowboy hats and boots. The movie follows siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), who, after the death of their father (Keith David), now bear the responsibility of their family business, Haywood Hollywood Horses, a once respected company that loans out horses for Hollywood pictures and commercials.
As with most siblings portrayed in film, OJ and Emerald are polar opposites. OJ is quiet, shy and reserved while Emerald on the other hand, is loud, confident and loves the spotlight. Their differences are made apparent from the get go, often silently disagreeing with each other until they crack open their dad’s old alcohol collection and smoke a joint together.
OJ is concerned with keeping family traditions and in an attempt to keep the business afloat, rents their horses to a nearby county fair run by Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star. Jupe acted on a famous ‘96 sitcom called ‘Gordy’s Home’ and has built a theme park surrounding the TV show character and his stardom back in the day. He’s warm and friendly, but there’s something off about him. That ‘something’ is later explained via flashbacks of an episode on ‘Gordy’s Home’ that ended violently.
Along the way the siblings come across tech-support Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and film director Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) who help them in uncovering and later on, capture the strange happenings on the range.
Out of all the cast, Keke Palmer stands out as Emerald. Aside from the fact that her character is loud and out-there, Palmer remains tolerable, funny and relatable. It’s hard to not watch the actress whenever she’s on screen, even on the rare occasions where she’s just standing quietly watching Yeun’s Jupe from her doorstep. Yeun, with his off-kilter warmth, makes Jupe an intriguing character who despite only serving as a subplot, makes viewers want to know more about him.
That said, Kaluuya’s OJ feels no different from other characters the actor has played in the past. Whether it’s Chris Washington in Peele’s Get Out or Slim in Melina Matsoukas’ Queen & Slim, Kaluuya often plays understated intense characters. It’s become a niche of his at this rate, but we’re curious to see the actor play a character that’s different from what we’ve already seen. It also doesn’t help that OJ lacks the substance and tenacity that Chris had in Get Out. In all, Kaluuya’s OJ is a character we find difficult to connect with, that even in his best moments, we can’t seem to feel fully for him.
The story is told via chapters, bookmarked by the names of their horses. It’s an interesting concept that actually works in the context of Nope. Starting each “chapter” with a horse helps to make the various sightings and strange happenings feel concise. It also creates a timeline that is easy to follow and understand. Just like a book, each chapter starts off simple and then slowly builds its way to a satisfying (in this case, an uncomfortable and scary) end.
Running for 2 hours and 10 minutes, the movie can at some points feel slow. Despite the benefit of signposting and an epic finale that reveals a major and unexpected twist, viewers will definitely feel the length of the movie. This is especially since the movie lacks a certain clarity as to what exactly lurks over the quiet range. Of course, this helps in building up to the big reveal, but it could potentially lose the interest of viewers who get frustrated trying to figure out what exactly our protagonists are going up against.
Thankfully, Nope is a visual spectacle. Director Peele clearly wants viewers to think about the exercise of looking and consuming, whilst looking and consuming his movie. Peele uses all the tricks he has to hypnotise and bewitch audiences so they never, ever, look away from the screen. Especially not when he prepares you for creature-features that will leave you in disbelief.
Director Peele is well known for using lots of motifs and symbolism to address a present issue in society. Get Out and Us both tap onto the issue of racism, with the latter also delving into class and ethnocentrism, but Nope does neither of that. With Nope, Peele decides to stray away from conversations of race and uses Nope as a satirical take about the price of fame, and what lengths one would go to acquire it. It’s still a topic relevant to today’s society, especially in the day and age of social media, trends, influencers and cloutchasers, but it doesn’t hold the same impact as previously discussed topics – at least, in our humble opinion.
In fact, where Get Out and Us may have viewers leaving the theatres thinking and having heavy discussions with their peers about said topic, Nope will likely have viewers questioning what the topic even was. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword here where it’s refreshing to see the director tackle a different theme for a change, it’s unfortunately not a salient one addressed here. One might only get the point of the movie (fame, consumption, voyeurism) after meditating for a couple of hours, but not every viewer practices that.
Nope makes up for it with its script, though. Although the movie is eerie and can be slow at times, parts of the script manage to evoke a couple of laughs to break the tension and monotony. The movie has well-scripted use of the word ‘Nope’, especially during times of distress and it always brings a chuckle or two.
In all, Nope is a high-concept alien movie that skews more towards the sci-fi-western genre, but is imbued with horror techniques and storytelling. Tackling topics like fame and complicated sibling relationships, Nope sees the director peele away from his usual conversation of race and ethnicity. It’s a pleasant change, but is perhaps an unwanted surprise for fans who feel like the director’s discussions on race theory is the main a-Peele.
The movie may have its lulls, but makes up for it with bewitching visuals and an epic finale that is unexpected and stunning. Nope is a mixed bag and whilst it still is an enjoyable movie, it’s not our favourite of Peele’s.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Jordan Peele’s Nope is a big fat yes for fans of aliens and sci-fi-westerns. Peeling away from race theory, Nope tackles a different topic for the first time in a unique way that mixes horror and humour.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 9/10
Characterisation - 7/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10