The residents of a lonely gulch in inland California bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery.
After a successful stint as creator, writer and actor on the comedy sketch series ‘Key and Peele’, Jordan Peele exploded into cinemas with the thrilling ‘Get Out’, possibly the most talked about horror movie of recent years. His follow up ‘Us’ didn’t get quite the same acclaim, but it was another example of Peele pushing boundaries in horror filmmaking and attempting to tell a bold and original story. His latest, ‘Nope’, is perhaps the first movie of his that owes more to movies of the past, as it plays as a homage to the type of science fiction movies that were made by the likes of Steven Spielberg in the 1970s and 1980s, and whilst it has its moments, it didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped it would.
‘Nope’ takes place on the outskirts of Hollywood and focuses on a brother (Otis Jr. or OJ, played by Daniel Kaluuya) and sister (Emerald or Em, played by Keke Palmer) who own a ranch where they train and handle horses for film and TV productions. Inherited from their father, they are soon forced to sell off some of the horses to the owner of a small Western theme park (Steven Yeun as Jupe) in order to keep the ranch afloat. Shortly afterwards they start to notice strange fluctuations in their electricity that lead to their horses bolting, eventually pinpointing the cause as some strange kind of UFO that appears to be killing their animals. Instead of running for their lives, OJ and Em see an opportunity to achieve wealth and fame by securing footage of the UFO, recruiting electronic tech Angel (Brandon Perea) and veteran cinematographer Antlers (Michael Wincott) to assist in this endeavour.
Firstly, the good. I really liked the characters, particularly because of the way they logically worked through the situation they found themselves in, reacting to each development smartly using the different skillsets they all possess. That meant they mostly avoided behaving like the standard idiots you tend to find in horror movies – the ‘enter the cabin in the woods folks’! I also felt that Peele and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s expansive filmmaking style gave the movie a weird blend of an epic and minimalistic scope, with some really fantastic sequences to rival some of the movies it was paying homage too (the encounter between the ‘UFO’ and the theme park ‘Jupiter’s Claim’ is breathtaking). On the less positive, I thought Peele’s attempts to make wider points about fame and exploitation were delivered in a relatively clunky manner, either not fitting into the overall story well (the flashbacks to ‘Gordy’s Home’ and the monkey) or being too on the nose (the TMZ reporter).
‘Nope’ is an ambitious third movie from Jordan Peele and a first foray into science fiction, with some enjoyable performances and an original take on a familiar premise, but for me it was stretching for something more profound than what it was capable off. A good summer blockbuster but little more than that, and as well directed as ‘Nope’ undoubtedly is, it does feel like multiple strong ideas thrown together into one less than the sum of its parts whole.
Directed By: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Michael Wincott, Brandon Perea, Steven Yeun and Keith David