Review by James Lindorf
When the first trailer for “Nope” Jordan Peele’s third feature film dropped it left viewers with many questions beyond the general what was that. Is it a western? A horror film? Science fiction? Satire? The last trailer erased doubts that the core of the film was indeed science fiction, but there are elements from those other genres. The way it fits into each category will depend on the individual, which should make “Nope” an exciting film to discuss. The conversations will begin when “Nope” opens everywhere on July 22nd.
With “Get Out” and “Us,” Peele proved he is currently the top director in the horror genre. Science fiction was the next logical challenge as the two genres have always worked well together, with films like “Alien” and “Predator” being almost universally loved. Staying closer to his horror roots, Peele doesn’t take us to space or the future. Instead, he brings another world to an inland California gulch and the Haywood farm.
“Nope” reunites Oscar winners Daniel Kaluuya and Jordan Peele for the first time since “Get Out” made them international sensations. In “Nope,” Kaluuya stars as OJ Haywood. He and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) and their father Otis Sr. (Keith David) run Haywood Hollywood Horses. The ranch is where they train animals for film and television. After the passing of Otis Sr., the siblings are having a tough go without the trust the industry placed in their father. Facing the financial challenges, the pair occasionally have to sell horses to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) for use at Jupiter’s Claim, a family-fun theme park and petting zoo based on the California Gold Rush. When OJ and Emerald begin observing unexplained phenomena on their ranch, it leads them down a rabbit hole in pursuit of another way to keep the business afloat. After both minor and major setbacks, a mix of desperation and hubris leads them to increasingly elaborate and dangerous set-ups. The only question left is how much they are willing to risk with the promise of fame and fortune within reach.
With just one exception, “Nope” is a phenomenal looking film thanks to Peele and Hoyte Van Hoytema (Tenet), who is easily one of the world’s best cinematographers. Hoytema blends the best aspects of the various genres capturing the dusty and rugged beauty of the landscape like any good western. Some moments capture your imagination as great Sci-Fi films do, and others are pure horror that would be at home in any creature feature or supernatural thriller. The one area the look of the film came up short is in some of the CGI work. Most of it is decent, but that flies out of the window during the climax, where it is flat-out bad.
Even when the film isn’t looking its best, it is still dominated by excellent performances. Joining the main cast are Angel (Brandon Perea), a tech-savvy conspiracy theorist, and Antlers (Michael Wincott), an eccentric cinematographer. Wincott is great, but his character Antlers is a bit off-putting. He feels disconnected from the rest of the movie because he is the only one that doesn’t provide any humor. Perea brings a lot of energy and jokes to the film. If he had to be replaced, Dave Franco would have been perfect for the role because it is his exact performance style. Steven Yeun disappears into his character, reminding you just how talented an actor he is if you only think of him as a guy from “The Walking Dead.” When it comes to Kaluuya and Palmer, if this was not a genre film, I think we would be discussing Oscar nominations in a few months. It is still possible, given the respect, everyone has for them and Peele, but it does put them behind the starting line. That being said, their performances are terrific and will only expand their fanbase.
In 1975 “Jaws” changed the world. It ushered in the summer blockbuster era, and it made us afraid to go into the water. What “Jaws” did for the water, “Nope” will do for the sky as we cast side-eye at every cloud hanging peacefully in the sky. While it may be Peele’s third best movie, “Nope” is the summer blockbuster film snobs dream about. The story has complexity using the trio of genres to talk to the audience about our relationship with nature and how we fit in. The acting, shot selection, and music are all top-notch, even if Peele does dip into the slowed-down pop song bag a little too often. When weighed against his other films, “Nope” may be lacking. Still, it is easily his most rewatchable film because it is the lightest and funniest. “Nope” is a near masterpiece and earns a 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Release Date: July 22nd, 2022
Runtime: 2h 15m
Distributor: Universal Pictures