By George Bate and Josh Reilly B.
Nope? More like, yep.
Apologies for the bad and glaringly obvious joke, but it must be acknowledged that Jordan Peele’s latest effort as writer/director is a resounding success. With his first two films Get Out and Us, Peele drew comparisons to the Master of Suspense himself, often branded as this generation’s Alfred Hitchcock. With Nope, however, a more apt comparison may be that Peele has the potential to be this generation’s Steven Spielberg. That is to say that Nope is a grand and ambitious spectacle, a love letter to sci-fi/horror of the past that is unafraid to lean into its cinematic influences and culminates in crowd-pleasing, blockbuster event.
Nope stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as siblings who have inherited a Hollywood horse ranch in inland California. Neighboring an amusement park-type experience ran by a former child star, played by Steven Yeun, the peaceful existence in the Californian desert is disrupted by what appears to be a UFO, sparking an investigation into the insidious presence hovering above in the clouds.
Nope is a brilliant exercise in blending of genres and deftly incorporating cinematic influences. Comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, down to the core premise and setting, are inevitable and evident in any promotional footage for Peele’s film. Unexpectedly, however, Nope proves to be a Spielbergian blend of sci-fi and horror. The interchange between characters and intricate planning to face a seemingly insurmountable enemy that makes the audience feel like it’s part of the team intimately feel like Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds, or even Poltergeist, which the famous filmmaker produced (A character in Nope even utters the iconic line from Poltergeist, “It’s here…”). Interestingly, similar to how Spielberg’s Jaws forever changed the landscape of summer movies and blockbusters, Peele’s Nope is, in many ways, 2022’s equivalent – a big budget, meticulously crafted cinematic experience that pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a Hollywood blockbuster. Nope lacks the raw originality of Jaws, but feels, nonetheless, like a game-changer for summer blockbusters.
Much of this is attributable to Peele’s masterful directing. Every frame is so purposefully included and meticulously crafted, so much so that it’s difficult to take your eyes away from the screen for a single moment. Scenes shot with IMAX film cameras are stunning and add layer upon layer to the film’s scope and sense of dread. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography breathes new life into how dark or nighttime sequences are presented. The unsettling stillness of Nope’s night scenes is palpable and truly frightening, even if nothing overtly scary is happening. This sense of dread in the absence of anything overtly scary is something the best horror films do, and Peele manages to capture this in Nope. Along with excellent sound design and careful integration of score, Peele continually shows his command of tension and suspense, while interestingly blending the sci-fi, horror, and Western genres. The blend of sci-fi and horror is apparent from the get-go, but continually evolves throughout the film. At times, Nope leans more heavily into horror tropes as Peele attempts to scare the audience, while, at other times, especially in the final act, Nope becomes more of a sci-fi adventure epic. Visual cues, themes explored, the setting, and even elements of the score also demonstrate Peele’s willingness to dip into the Western genre. Coupled with some hilarious, crowd-pleasing moments, all of this makes for a genre-blending experience that constantly fluctuates between nail-biting scares, gut wrenching laughs, applause-worthy moments, and sci-fi shock and awe.
Propelling the film forward is an ensemble cast lead by recent Academy Award winner Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. The two perfectly evoke the “I hate you, you’re so annoying” and “I love you, I’ll do anything for you” dichotomy of sibling relationships. Kaluyya delivers a far more understated and nuanced performance, whereas Palmer takes her character in a more eccentric and over-the-top direction. Together, the two lead performances balance each other out very well and make Kaluuya and Palmer compelling leads. These aren’t the kind of jaw-dropping, Awards worthy performances on display in Peele’s Get Out or Us, but are well-suited for what the writer/director is aiming for with Nope.
Supporting the leads is a breakout performance by Brandon Perea, as Angel Torres, a tech-store employee who joins the siblings’ investigation into the UFO. Perea is perhaps best known for his role in the overlooked Netflix sci-fi thriller series The OA and showcases an entirely different side of his acting repertoire here. Perea’s Angel is hilarious and likable, a character that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Spielberg sci-fi outing from the 80s. Moreover, Steven Yeun is effective with relatively little screen time as Jupe Park, the head of the nearby amusement park. Finally, Michael Wincott shines as a grizzled cinematographer with a resounding, gravelly voice in a limited role.
As Peele did in both Get Out and Us, the filmmaker navigates a delicate balance between over-explanation and abstraction. Shyamalan, for instance, has been criticized for over-explaining twist endings, most recently notable in 2021’s Old. Get Out intelligently explained what was necessary to understand the unfolding of the narrative, while leaving so much for the audience to interpret and think deeper about. Us wasn’t as resounding of a success in this area. The film, while undoubtedly Peele’s scariest of his three directing efforts so far, falls apart with a series of twists and explanations that ultimately prove to be underwhelming and, at times, silly. With his newest film, Peele returns to form in, for the most part, balancing explanation and abstraction well. Nope features some unfortunately messy exposition that can be unnecessarily and unintentionally difficult to follow, but, overwhelmingly, Peele manages to give the audience enough information to simultaneously understand what’s going on and ponder over its deeper meanings.
If Get Out and Us were Peele showing the world that he is this generation’s Alfred Hitchcock, Nope has the potential to define Peele as this generation’s Steven Spielberg. Nope is an expertly crafted blend of the sci-fi, horror, and Western genres that, in a manner not dissimilar from Spielberg’s Jaws, reshapes what a big-budget summer blockbuster can look and feel like. A meticulously put together film, down to stunning IMAX shots, breathtaking cinematography, and ominous sound design, Nope excels in so many areas and is an undoubtedly enjoyable and crowd-pleasing experience that demands a big-screen, theatrical viewing. Compelling lead performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, with a breakout turn by Brandon Perea, further affirm Nope as must-watch cinema. Unafraid to lean heavily into influences, while still feeling singular and visionary, Nope is most certainly a ‘yep.’