What’s a bad miracle?
Every time filmmaker Jordan Peele releases a new movie, film critics seem to lose their collective ‘shit’ over whatever he’s made, irrespective of whether it’s actually any good or not. His directorial debut, 2017’s Get Out, is honestly excellent, but I found his follow-up, 2019’s Us, to be very underwhelming, and was genuinely surprised when our writer submitted a five-star review to publish on our site. Peele returns to the directing chair with his hotly anticipated third feature, Nope, which is an alien invasion flick, a monster movie, a thriller, a comedy, a western, and a darn right mess. Influenced by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), along with M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002), Peele throws everything and the kitchen sink at the screen here, hoping that some of it will stick.
Nope (which is apparently an acronym for Not of Planet Earth) follows OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya), an animal wrangler who runs a ranch in the Santa Clarita Valley in California with his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), where they provide horses for movie and TV productions. They’re also the ancestors of the unnamed Black jockey who appeared in Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering “Animal Locomotion, Plate 626” — the very first assembly of photographs used to create a motion picture — with Peele using the ‘nameless rider’ in the animation to highlight how Black people have been overlooked in the entertainment industry for as long as it’s existed.
After OJ and Emerald’s father, Otis Sr. (Keith David), passes away from an unforeseen, potentially unearthly event, OJ and Emerald begin to suspect that there’s an intergalactic visitor hovering above the hills in their ranch, one that hides inside a cloud. In order to get proof of its existence (which they refer to as getting “the Oprah shot”), the siblings get help from a surveillance-tech guy named Angel (Brandon Perea) and eventually even persuade a renowned cinematographer, Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), to take celluloid footage of whatever’s up in the sky.
To his credit, writer-director Peele has a few decent ideas in Nope (a spaceship that devours people is kinda awesome) but barely explores any of them in detail as he’s too busy using symbolism to convey his thoughts whilst trying to shove a message down viewers’ throats. This time it’s a warning against capitalism and the dangers of trying to turn everything into a money-making scheme, conveyed through people wanting to profit off a UFO sighting. Look, I’m sure if you dig deeper, you’ll probably find even more to unpack, but I’m just not that interested.
As stated earlier, Nope isn’t a complete write-off as there’s another, more intriguing narrative running parallel with that of OJ and Emerald. Weaved into the mix is the story of Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former late nineties child star whose ‘brand’ was tarnished after a chimpanzee went wild on the set of his show, Gordy’s Home, the chimp brutally slaughtering and disfiguring all the actors bar him. From there, Jupe’s career went downhill. He now runs a tacky country-styled theme park in the desert he calls Jupiter’s Claim; Jupe’s story is a poignant, somewhat biting take on Hollywood showbiz — I just wish Peele had taken more time to focus on this, and maybe that way, we would have had a better film on our hands.
Irrespective, Peele builds some solid sequences of suspension throughout; the best of these is a nail-biting bit in the middle of a nasty storm reminiscent of a cosmic Lovecraftian fiction. This scene features outstanding use of Corey Hart’s 1984 synth-pop hit ‘Sunglasses at Night,’ which has been cleverly infused with the onscreen tension. Moreover, the film looks fabulous, with Peele balancing pragmatism with spectacle; the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema, Interstellar (2014), is superb, and so is the bombastic sound design by Johnnie Burn, The Favorite (2018). However, there are too many long gaps and flat spots where nothing actually happens, making the flick’s two-plus-hour runtime drag; this is a long movie where there’s simultaneously too much going on and not quite enough. The alien reveal, chiefly its design, is also very disappointing, with the ‘creature’ coming off as a cross between a torn bed sheet and something an eight-year-old would craft out of crepe paper at an after-school care program.
The performances, on the whole, are a bit hit and miss. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out (2017), mumbles his way through his dialogue, and Keke Palmer, Hustlers (2019), well … she’s having fun; I just wish we were, too. Granted, Kaluuya and Palmer’s sibling connection rings true and makes certain moments of the movie work as well as they should. In more minor roles, Steven Yeun, Minari (2020), shines as Jupe, the one-time child star who’s forced to constantly relive a traumatic moment in his youth in order to make money despite what it’s costing him mentally. Brandon Perea is fun as tech-savvy Angel Torres, who decides to aid the Haywoods to fill the empty void left by his latest breakup, whilst Michael Wincott, Dead Man (1995), is genuinely captivating in his portrayal as curious cinematographer Antlers Holst.
Is there enough in Jordan Peele’s Nope to make the trip to the multiplex a ‘yep’? I’d say if you’re curious, maybe wait for streaming. Causal viewers, however, might find Nope to be a confusing, head-scratching, and ultimately arduous experience. I think Peele was onto something when deciding on the title of Nope because this one gets a resounding ‘nope’ from me.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)
Nope is released through Universal Pictures Australia