FILM REVIEW: NOPE
Release Date: 12th August 2022
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott
Written by: Jordan Peele
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
“redolent of Shyamalan, and that’s never a good thing”
To be fair it’s taken him three movies, but with Nope, Jordan Peele’s lustre has started to dull.
Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play brother and sister OJ and Em Haywood. The Haywoods come from a long line of horse folk. Father Otis Sr. (Keith David) runs a company that supplies horses for Hollywood movies, and great great great grandfather was the jockey in Eadweard Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion from 1878.
Nope opens with a bible quote, and there’s quite a bit of an Old Testament vibe running throughout. One of the first scenes sees Otis Sr. killed by a coin through the skull after a biblical storm of metal objects come raining down from the sky, leaving the broody Otis Jr. and the unhinged Em to run the business. But more weird stuff starts happening, such as horses disappearing in the night, electrical surges and a large cloud over the ranch that doesn’t move.
Nope works best if approached without any prior knowledge or assumptions. The first half of the movie sets up the question of what is “up there”, and the second half emphatically answers that question. The automatic assumption is little green men in UFOs, but where Peele is concerned, things are never that obvious or straightforward. Nope is most rewarding during this first half, where the viewer is trying to figure out what’s going on at the same pace as OJ Jr. and Em. Things are left open to interpretation, but suffice it to say that the biblical theme is kept going.
Unfortunately, the back half of the movie falls a bit flat, with the final act particularly disappointing. Most of the second hour is action, and while Nope is certainly the most cinematic of Peele’s movies to date, it’s debatable that action is a genre that plays to his strengths. There is one particular story strand here that goes absolutely nowhere, and appears to have been included purely so a couple of cool shots could be used in the trailer.
Where Nope is sorely lacking is in longevity. It doesn’t have the capacity to linger in the old grey matter in the same manner as Peele’s other work. In fact, it’s probably best enjoyed as a piece of throwaway pulp, because the overriding legacy of Nope is that there is no overriding legacy whatsoever. This is partly because it doesn’t deal with any important issues in the same manner that Get Out dealt head on with exploitation and cultural appropriation, or the class and inequality critique of Us. It lacks focus, and merely exists without trying to say anything. Which is perfectly fine, but it is instantly forgettable.
There are no big epiphanies. No road to Damascus moment and no one is radically changed. We don’t learn anything about any of these characters. Daniel Kaluyya’s Otis Jr. starts out as an introvert, and ends as an introvert. The cause of his introspection is never explained, he just is. Peele deals a lot in “just because”. There are rules of engagement that are established between Otis Jr. and the “thing”. Although these rules are clearly set out for us, it’s not really explained how Otis Jr. has managed to work out these rules for himself. There are elements here that will drive you mad if you dwell on them for too long, so it’s best to just go with it.
Peele still knows how to set-up a creepy scene, and there’s a doozy here that’s reminiscent of M Night Shyamalan’s Signs. Sadly, it’s a fake-out, and is the only time that Nope gets properly creepy. In fact there is much here that is redolent of Shyamalan’s work, and that is never a good thing. As Peele progresses through his career, he seems to become more infatuated with the high concept, or “the twist”. He would be better off focussing on the story, and leave the cheap gimmicks to Shyamalan.