Nope (2022) – Film Review
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun
By Roger Crow
One of the few good things about lockdown is the fact creatives got time to craft interesting stories.
Jordan Peele is a case in point. Having given us the blistering Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner/Stepford Wives-style chiller Get Out, and jaw-dropping doppelgänger shocker Us, writer, producer, director Peele moved his attention skyward with this lockdown-penned homage to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Signs and many other sci-fi favourites.
Nope largely centres on the Haywoods, a family descended from the jockey featured in Eadweard Muybridge’s groundbreaking film of a guy on a horse. (Random trivia: until this pioneering short was made, artists had no clue what horses’ legs looked like when galloping, so if you see them with two straight back and front legs, it’s pre-Muybridge).
The Haywoods run a service which provides horses for movies, and operate on a California ranch with vast skies as their backdrop.
When a tragedy occurs one day and the patriarch (Keith David) is killed by falling debris from a mysterious object, son OJ (the ever brilliant Daniel Kaluuya) tries to keep the business going, while his sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer) helps out inbetween juggling assorted hustles.
Meanwhile, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star, runs Jupiter’s Claim, an amusement park which promises some sort of extra-terrestrial experience involving horses.
As a kid, Ricky was traumatised by an incident on his sitcom when a chimp went crazy and maimed some of the cast. There are flashbacks to the incident, and one of those heart-in-the-mouth moments involving the chimp, as well as a really weird moment of a shoe stood upright, as though on tip-toe. (Said shoe is now in a glass case, and has attracted all sorts of speculation from online Nope fans).
“Reveals his hand”
Added to the mix are mysterious film maker Antlers Holst (gravel-voiced Michael Wincott, from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Alien Resurrection, whose face has finally aged as well as his unmistakable voice). He uses old school hand-cranked cameras and believes OJ and Emerald’s anomaly isn’t worth investigating… until that third act.
There’s also Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), an electronics store employee who sets up security cameras on the ranch to capture whatever is out there.
And what is ‘out there’ starts out as one of those “seriously?” moments.
When Peele reveals his hand in a scene at Jupiter’s Claim, it looks like he’s sending up the sci-fi genre, with a hint of Jaws added for good measure.
Sadly we also have to endure one of those moments my grandad used to refer to as “It’s been shot in a coal cellar.” Yes, it’s filmed at night and you can’t make out a thing, which is far more annoying than atmospheric, though it may have looked better on the big screen.
At 130 minutes, the movie is a little too long; that first act could have done with tightening up, but the fact Peele takes his time setting up those characters pays dividends when that genuinely brilliant finale plays out. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, a biker in a silver helmet (which may be a tribute to cult movie The Phantom of the Paradise), shows up, and you’re on the back-foot yet again.
We’re used to movie geeks paying homage to other films, but this is one of the first sci-fi offerings to pay tribute to the very dawn of motion pictures, or to feature a way of capturing the anomaly that is germane to Muybridge’s groundbreaking work.
If you’re going in cold with Nope, that’s the best way to be. Don’t read any spoilers in advance. However, chances are you’ll need to watch the whole thing again as Peele’s extraordinary tale unfurls like a huge kite. And if that makes no sense, it will after you’ve seen the film.