Nope is Jordan Peele’s third feature film following Get Out and Us, but it tackles an entirely different story and tone. He certainly doesn’t hold back on the spectacle of it all, although he leaves other more intimate storytelling elements on the sidelines. Nope instills some fascinating horror sci-fi adventure, even though it comes up a bit lacking when it comes to crafting a cohesive narrative.
‘Nope’ shrouds its horse ranch in mystery
OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) are siblings working for their family company, Haywood’s Hollywood Horses. They live a relatively quiet life when they aren’t bringing their trained horses onto movie sets. However, that peace is suddenly interrupted when they discover an odd presence on their inland California ranch.
Nope finds OJ and Emerald trying to get to the bottom of what this presence could be. A local amusement park owner and former child actor Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun) also finds himself facing the same dangers. Wildlife and human behavior continue to change in strange ways, but there doesn’t appear to be any logical reason.
Writer/director Jordan Peele emphasizes the familial bond
Peele makes the familial bond the centerpiece of Nope. OJ follows in his father’s footsteps in the Haywood’s Hollywood Horses business. Meanwhile, Emerald found other passions that she makes a priority. Nevertheless, the events of Nope require them to set aside their differences and work together if they hope to get to the bottom of these mysterious circumstances. They take pride in their family history, but now the future of their bloodline is at risk.
Nope places trauma front-and-center within the film’s narrative. Jupiter’s Claim is a Western theme park that houses fears and insecurities of its own. Peele wraps each of his central characters with such backstories. However, they don’t extend much further past this. As a result, they aren’t much more than one aspect of their histories, making for weak characterizations that don’t necessarily resonate.
Similar to Get Out and Us, Peele doesn’t take himself too seriously. He incorporates social commentary, but the terror and the comedy blend together to create a moviegoing experience. The sense of humor especially takes form in a Fry’s employee named Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and through the dialogue. OJ occasionally has the same reaction that many moviegoers have when something terrifying happens in a horror movie – “nope.” It’s both a clever use of the movie’s title and a recurring joke that doesn’t lose its humor.
‘Nope’ takes big swings, but they don’t all pay off
Nope incorporates a lot of symbolism throughout the runtime, including currency. Coins and a more abstract notion of money and property feed into Peele’s message. He combines consumerism with society’s addiction to spectacle and how it defines us. It remains at the forefront of the movie with heavy-handed messaging.
Peele further pursues this theme of spectacle through his show-stopping direction. Nope is particularly gorgeous in its IMAX footage that makes the Haywood’s Hollywood Horses ranch feel so much more expansive. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s nighttime cinematography is noteworthy, elevating the summer blockbuster to new heights. Additionally, the sound design is extraordinary in establishing the atmosphere and making the most of the movie’s biggest moments.
Nope is a calling card to The Twilight Zone and the style of earlier Steven Spielberg. However, it still very much has Peele’s signature mark that makes it his own. Kaluuya, Palmer, and Perea are notable standouts, delivering worthwhile performances that easily allow the movie to gravitate between horror and comedy with ease. Unfortunately, the characters are paper-thin and never give the audience much reason to care.
Peele instills some fascinating horror sci-fi elements that simply beg for further exploration. However, not every creative swing pays off. The third act includes a massive tonal shift that pulls away from what the first two acts developed. Nope has an abundance of intriguing concepts, although their execution leaves something to be desired. It’s Peele’s weakest film to date.
Nope lands into theaters on July 22.