Nope Synopsis: Two siblings, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), who run a horse ranch for movie stunts, discover something wonderful and sinister in the skies above, while the owner of an adjacent theme park Jupe (Steven Yeun) tries to profit from the mysterious, otherworldly phenomenon.
An undefinable entity forms a transfixing presence in a community of entertainment industry outsiders in Nope. For writer/director Jordan Peele, exploring societal concepts through the twisted prism of horror cinema is an accomplished calling card for the comedian-turned-auteur filmmaker. The razor-sharp satire of Get Out and the haunting allures of Us catapulted Peele to meteoric heights in Hollywood – an ascension that includes an Oscar win and the distinction of creative carte blanche status with prominent studios.
In Nope, Peele marries his nightmarish worldview within a world brimming with horror, neo-western, and sci-fi serial aesthetics. His ambition continues to expand in breathtaking ways, and while the film doesn’t wholly satisfy its scope, it does showcase a compelling spectacle crafted with remarkable craft and intelligence.
Like the film’s mysterious marketing campaign, Peele shrouds Nope in a lingering sense of intrigue. The director continues to work with composed patience in his horror pursuits, orchestrating an uneasy atmosphere heightened by the unknown presence of a worldly entity. I am glad Peele’s distinctive voice remains ever-present onscreen. The writer/director continues dispensing angst as an effective horror tool and a thoughtful brush for moments of welcomed comedic levity.
Visually, Peele reaches new heights in craftsmanship as he draws his story with immersive scale. He and Tenet Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema morph their barren desert landscape into an ominous hellscape obscured by the shadows of a lurking spectrum. The duo utilizes a few sound sources of inspiration, like the detached dread of M. Night Shyamalan’s work and the intense mood of a Steven Speilberg genre picture, as integral building blocks for creating an epic that feels equally grand and evocative. There are several indelible images from Nope that will linger with me long past the closing credits.
Peel’s conceptual aspirations remain an essential aspect of his cinematic oeuvre. Whereas Get Out and Us presented refined theses on closeted racism and class disparity, Peele boldly forms Nope as a narrative experience bursting with conceits at every corner. Most of the characters in Nope confide themselves in prisons defined by their various demons – whether that be the weight of a Hollywood horse-rangling legacy resting on OJ’s shoulders, the commercialization Jupe commits on his traumatic childhood acting legacy, or an acclaimed cinematographer possessed by his desire to create the so-called “perfect shot.”
Peele crafts a film uniquely defined by the presence of Hollywood castoffs. OJ, his ambitious sister Emerald, and Jupe spend their days in a barren wasteland as thankless cogs discarded from the entertainment industry. The sudden presence of a mesmerizing spectacle in the sky inspires each to pursue it as a prize for their sense of personal achievement.
Without spoiling too much of Nope’s surprises, the thematic experience culminates in fascinating portraits of trauma, exploitation, and their intersection inside the spectrum of media’s glaring bright light. I don’t think Peele’s conceptual approach is faultless. He implements one too many didactic dialogue exchanges, and the characterization here lacks the vividness to create lived-in figures – but the pie-in-the-sky ambition and moments of cathartic resonance are something to celebrate for a big-budget tentpole. I’ve grown to appreciate the film’s messy yet daring conceits the more I reflect upon them.
While the characters are somewhat thin, Nope’s dynamic ensemble cast helps shoulder some of the weight. Daniel Kaluuya is one of the industry’s best insular performers, capturing the soft-spoken OJ’s lingering pains and responsibilities through subdued glances and reflections. In contrast, Keke Palmer provides a ray of sunshine as the personable Emerald, often commanding the screen through her sheer charismatic force. The duo’s dissident personalities mesh effectively as a sibling pair rediscovering their connection with one another. Steve Yeun also offers a fascinating performance as a showbiz huckster living off his complicated legacy (his Chris Kattan monologue is perfection).
Nope showcases Jordan Peele pushing his sensibility to impressive new heights in a spell-binding blockbuster experience. I hope Hollywood continues to give Peele the creative freedom he commands, as there are few in the industry pushing boundaries in mainstream cinema like him.