Nope review: Jordan Peele's latest horror is no ordinary creature feature
Regardless of how you interpret the Get Out director's new film, it certainly delivers on its opening promise of spectacle.
Aliens are no strangers to cinema. From War of the Worlds and ET to Independence Day and Arrival, UFOs have landed on screens regularly in the last 70 years, meaning filmmakers are now faced with the difficult question of how do you make a movie about extraterrestrials feel remotely original? Well, with Nope, Jordan Peele’s third film (after Get Out and Us), the writer/director has answered in impressive fashion.
Sitting somewhere between horror and sci-fi thriller, it begins with a cryptic Bible quote: "I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle." With this warning — and that last word "spectacle" is the key — the action soon starts in Agua Dulce, southern California, where a Black family trains horses to be used in Hollywood film, TV and advertising, but has been rocked by a series of UFO sightings on their ranch. Siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) have polar-opposite personalities — she’s the care-free one who schmoozes clients, he’s the taciturn animal wrangler — but soon hatch a plan to catch the saucer in the sky on film, with the help of tech store clerk Angel (Brandon Perea).
However, as if that wasn’t enough, further down the Santa Clarita valley there’s more showbiz-related creepiness, as a man named Jupe (Minari’s Steven Yeun) runs a spectacularly tacky wild-west theme park. He’s a former 90s sitcom child actor whose career stalled when his co-star, a chimpanzee named Gordy, went on a murderous rampage on set — an incident that is depicted in a show-stopping flashback of pure, primal horror.
Make no mistake, though, this is no ordinary creature feature. Peele wrings tension and dread from keeping his alien unseen in a way that recalls Spielberg’s Jaws or M Night Shyamalan’s Signs, yet as a whole Nope is a much more enigmatic blockbuster. From inflatable tube men waving in a desert valley to blood raining down on a house, the director continues to have a knack for composing striking imagery, and many viewers will enjoy poring over Nope’s symbols and metaphorical suggestions of 'what does it all mean?' Could the struggle of filming the UFO be an allegory for the process of filmmaking, or is it a critique of technology-driven surveillance? Only Peele knows, but fans will enjoy theorising.
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Similarly, although the director’s tendency to tease by sharply cutting away from the film’s most tense moments of horror may exasperate some, Peele enjoyably lays MacGuffins and Easter eggs for film fans throughout, ranging from references to a three-second short film from 1878 to Daniel Kaluuya spending the climax in a hoodie made for crew of the obscure 2002 The Mummy spin-off The Scorpion King. And comedic dialogue also punctuates the scares in a way seen in Get Out and Us, with Nope’s title a reference to the characters reaction whenever they see the terror before their eyes.
As for the performances, Kaluuya exudes irresistible charisma and cool as OJ, and Palmer brings energy as the film’s strongest outlet for comedy. Together the pair have sterling chemistry, while Steven Yeun offers subtlety and tenderness as the quietly tormented Jupe, and Michael Wincott entertainingly lampoons artist stereotypes as a famed cinematographer drafted in to help film the monster.
Shot on IMAX cameras by Interstellar and Dunkirk director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema, Nope is also intended for the biggest screen possible, and anyone wary of pretentiousness should know that ambiguity does not come at the cost of thrills, as Peele reaffirms his status as a filmmaker with both blockbuster pedigree and thought-provoking ideas. Regardless of how you interpret it, Nope certainly delivers on its opening promise of spectacle.
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