WHAT’S A BAD MIRACLE?
Over the past several years, Jordan Peele has definitely been making a name for himself on both the big and small screen. While he started in small roles on shows like MADtv, Children’s Hospital, and Fargo, Peele gained some notoriety when he started on the sketch comedy TV show Key & Peele, which aired on the channel Comedy Central. Running for five seasons, the show gained the comedic pairing of Peele (and actor Keegan-Michael Key), which eventually leading them to making a comedic feature film titled Keanu in 2016; a film that received mixed reviews, but praised Key and Peel’s witty banter / on-screen chemistry. In 2017, Peele made the jump from actor to motion picture director, directing his first film with the movie Get Out, a suspenseful / horror movie of an African American man (played by actor Daniel Kaluuya) who uncovers a dark / disturbing secret when he meets the family of his white girlfriend. Surprisingly, Peele’s Get Out was met with critical praise from critics and moviegoers, with many praising the feature’s story, script, and satire / social commentary message. Furthermore, Get Out, which was made for only $4.5 million, cultivated over $250 million at the box office and also celebrated several award nominations during the award season, including winning Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. The success of Get Out prompted Peele to return to the director’s chair two years later with a follow-up horror genre film in 2019’s Us, which starred Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, and Elizabeth Moss, and followed the story of a woman and her family go on vacation when they are attacked by a group of menacing doppelgangers of themselves. Much like Get Out, Us was received with both critical and commercial success from critics and moviegoers alike, with many praising Peele’s direction / screenplay, Nyong’o’s performance, and the film’s score. The film went on to gross over $255 million at the box office worldwide against its $20 million production budget. Now, after receiving acclaim from Us, Peele returns to the director’s chair once again with the release of his third film titled Nope. Does this third feature film attempt follow suit with Peele’s cinematic predecessors or is it a far cry from being actually good and just being overhyped by the masses?
Set in rural California, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) is a horse rancher that is struggling to maintain the property after his father, Otis (Keith David), a respectable horse wrangler, dies mysteriously by a falling object from the sky. Unable to find consistent work, OJ also deals with his sister, Emerald “Em” (Keke Palmer), who’s moved away from ranch and not interested in the family business maintaining her own free-willing energy and life respectfully. To make ends meet, OJ is selling off the ranch’s horses to Ricky (Steve Yuen), a former child actor who’s created Jupiter’s Claim, a nearby roadside attraction that celebrates the classic Hollywood-style cowboy way, but is also home to a secret museum dedicated to the unnerving wrath of Gordy, a chimpanzee who violently snapped on Ricky’s old TV show years ago. Concerned with his personal and financial situation, OJ has much on his mind, but these concerns are immediately replaced by curiosity and uncertainty when he spots an unidentified flying object in the sky one night. Recruiting Em and fellow UFO enthusiasts Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and later film cinematographer Antlers Hoist (Michael Wincott), OJ hatches a plan to capture evidence of this elusive visitor, who becomes hostile and terrorizes the area.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Utilizing a few lines from my review from Us (in the opening paragraph and in this one), Jordan Peele has definitely made a name for himself these past few years. Personally, I remember seeing a few episodes of Key & Peele a couple of times; finding the pair’s overall chemistry great and how they produced laughs. Then I saw Keanu and, while I didn’t review the movie (my bad), I thought it had a few laughs within a somewhat mediocre motion picture. I kind of find it interesting that Key decided to purse more of acting career (appearing in more supporting roles in movies), while Peele decided to try his hand in directing. Of course, I’m talking about his movie Get Out, which (like I mentioned above) garnished quite a lot of positive reviews from both critics and viewers alike. I did miss seeing this movie in theaters, but I did rent it when it was released on home release. However, while a great majority loved it, I thought it was good, but nothing really spectacular. I’m not knocking Peele’s directing ability, which was really good for a first timer of a full-length motion picture, as well as the cast and the social commentary message that was presented, but I just felt the film was a little bit overhyped and was a complete masterpiece has some were making it out to be. Regardless of why I thought, however, Get Out was definitely a big hit with its viewers and definitely made a statement with Peele’s directing ability. That being said, I really did like 2019’s Us. It was really creepy and bizarre and I, for one, loved it. There were some things that weren’t fully explained in the narrative plots, but the movie kept me invested in it from beginning to end as well as the strong performance from Lupita Nyong’o’s performance. All in all, Peele’s Get Out and Us project the director’s unique approach to cinematic storytelling and to just creepy thrillers on the fringes of the horror genre are quite palpable and are a welcoming sight to today’s Hollywood movie landscape that is filled with rehash remakes, large blockbuster franchises, and run-of-the-mill “book-to-film” adaptations.
This brings me back to talking about this current movie review for the film Nope, Peele’s third directorial feature film. After the release of 2019’s Us, I was quite interested to see what Peele was going to do next. I know that he was going to be working on an updated iteration of the TV series classic The Twilight Zone (2019-2020) as well as doing a few executive producing roles such as Hunters, Candyman, and Lovecraft Country. It was in amongst those roles and projects, Peele did announce that he would be directing a third film, with no official title given at that particular moment. Much like director Christopher Nolan’s work, Peele’s announcement alone lead to a wide range of speculation and rumors on his upcoming film project, which he was set to direct, write, and produce. Over time, not much news was released on the upcoming movie…. until a few months ago when the first official trailer for film, which was now being called Nope, started to appear online and in theaters in the “coming attractions” in movie theaters. From the trailer alone, it was kind of hard to figure out what the movie was going to be out, which (in my opinion) was kind of a good thing, especially since some movie trailers actual spoil / reveal the main plot of the feature or some kind of “big twist” and ruin the viewing experience. There was a sense of air of mystery while watching the trailer, with touches of horror and dark foreboding going on, which definitely intrigued me. Plus, I was curious to see Peele reunite with Get Out actor Daniel Kaluuya in the movie and how he plays in the film’s (presumably) main character. Right before the movie came out, it was revealed online that Peele’s Nope was going to deal with alien / UFO aspect, which seem such an intriguing point to discuss for the director’s horror touches. Thus, I was quite set to see Nope when it was set to be released on July 22nd, 2022. I did see the movie on its opening night, but I had to delay my review of the film for a few weeks due to my work schedule and other personal projects (sadly). That being said, I finally have some free time to share and give my opinion on what I thought of the film. And how was it? Well, I was quite surprised to say that I liked it. While there were a few areas that needed to be smoothed out, Jordan Peele’s Nope is a haunting and quite unique take on an old Hollywood sci-fi endeavor that helmed by the director’s mastery of storytelling, creepy moments, palpable themes, and a solid cast. There are a few points of criticism that I had with the feature, but the positives definitely outweigh negative ones…..in a very good way.
For its presentation, I would have to say that Nope displays a solid job in bringing this movie world to life on the silver screen. Given the feature’s production budget was $68 million, which might not sound like much for summer blockbusters, but it proves to be (as of this review) Peele’s most expensive film project to date. Thankfully, Peele seems to utilize the production budget for Nope smartly and uses every penny to make the feature come alive (visually speaking) through the usage of background settings and visual effects shots. Given the desert-like setting for Nope’s story, Peele and his team depict a very isolated and barren cinematic landscape; showcasing the desolate and worn-down feeling that OJ faces with his family’s rundown horse farm. This also fits into the strange and unusual sci-fi horror elements that Peele weaves into the narrative, which creates some striking moments that are presented throughout. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team on the project, including Ruth De Jong (production design), Gene Serdana (set decorations), Alex Bovaird (costume designs), and Nicholas Monsour (film editing) should be applauded for their efforts in making Nope’s visual aesthetics / setting come alive in a way that blends realism with a touch of surreal nature. This also extends into the movie’s visual effects department, which uses some great effect shows within the confines of a relatively small production budget. Kudos to those computer wizards of CGI rendering. In addition, the movie’s cinematography work by Hoyte Van Hoytema, the man behind such great cinematic / dramatic movies such as Dunkirk, Ad Astra, and Tenet, is fantastic and definitely lends to some great moments in the feature that are wonderfully done with stirring cinematics to the proceedings. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Michael Abels, is indeed a very dramatic and powerful composition in the movie. Abels, who has collaborated on Peele’s other two films (Get Out and Us), delivers a stirring score that resonates through some of the more dramatic “big action” parts of the movie as well as some of the more horrific and unnerving bits. The end result is something that definitely works and provides plenty of unsettling / tension moments that speaks volume within context of the film’s story and provides to be quite important to the likeability of the film’s palpable suspense. Good job Abels!
There were a few problems that I had while watching Nope and, while not devastating ones, were a few minor nitpicks of the feature. Perhaps the biggest one that I had with the film was the first half of the film. I do understand that Peele is trying to build intrigue and mystery into the feature’s narrative as well as introducing the various main characters in the story. That being said, the way how he manages it is all comes at the expense of the feature’s pacing during the first act, which does seem to drag in a few areas during this portion. I do understand that Peele is trying to capture the whole “setup” for the main premise, and he certainly does deliver the goods for the second half, but it does take time to get to that point, which can be problematic for the viewing experience. Additionally, some people might be turned off by the way that Peele doesn’t fully present Nope’s narrative in a straightforward way, with the film intercutting several flashbacks points throughout the presentation. Again, this is understandable to a certain degree, especially providing several sub context and nuances to the proceedings, yet it breaks apart the flow of the movie a few times and creates a slight disjointed feeling. This criticism didn’t bother me as much, but it might for some viewers out there.
Another minor problem that I had with the movie is some of the comedy aspects that the feature has throughout. I do understand some of the humor that is being presented as “dark humor”, which tries to make light of the current situation that the characters are in, yet, some of the context given is too gravitas to behold that the comedic levity that is being produced such feels wonky and disjointed. I know that Peele is known for utilizing this style of filmmaking as shown in Get Out and Us, but it becomes a bit distracting in Nope. Plus, what’s actually presented in the humor isn’t really the “knee slapper” type that some are calling it….at least I can’t see it. Yes, I might have chuckled once or twice, but I don’t think that the movie’s comedy is hilarious fun or palpably important to the feature’s integrity.
The cast in Nope is another prime example of Peele’s selecting great acting talents to play his characters in the movie. Like before with Us, the cast involved in the film is kept to a small selection of actors and actresses that the movie tends to focus on, but the talent is up to the challenges and makes the character themselves memorable. Perhaps the best example of this is in the film’s two main protagonist characters of Otis Jr. “OJ” Haywood and his sister Emerald “Em”, who are played by actor Daniel Kaluuya and actress Keke Palmer. Kaluuya, known for his roles in Get Out, Black Panther, and Judas and the Black Messiah, has certainly made a name for his himself over the past few years and has proven himself to be quite a capable actor. Thus, his involvement in Nope is indeed a “secret weapon”, with Kaluuya utilizing his talent to make the character of OJ interesting without saying much. What do I mean? Well, the film’s script makes OJ, despite being a main character, have very minimal dialogue lines and is more of a physical character than verbal one. This type of build has been done before in movies (spanning different genres) and has definitely work, if both he director and script manage everything right about this particular character. Thankfully, Peele does this as well as Kaluuya, with the latter projecting the right amount of subtly in his character’s bravado and never overacts nor oversells OJ’s quiet demeanor. Likewise, Palmer, who is known for her roles in Alice, Lightyear, and Hustlers, is great foil against Kaluuya’s minimalistic / steely demeanor and just having fun with playing such a character as Em. Filled with energy and a more talkative personality, Em is definitely the more “vocal” of the two Haywood sibling, with Palmer playing up those particular inane quirks through her performance, yet she also particular moments where her character gets to shine and take the spotlight, especially during the climatic finale in the third act. Together, I liked both Kaluuya’s OJ and Palmer’s Em, which make for a good chemistry as on-screen brother / sister duo and definitely help sells the two main protagonist characters in Nope.
The supporting characters in Nope are delegated in handing out several key points of exposition dialogue moments throughout the narrative. While this may be a tad bit mechanic in the storytelling structure (by Peele’s design work). This is most prevalent in the character of Angel Torres, a tech salesman at Fry’s Electronics who becomes invested in the Haywood siblings trek to find a UFO and who is played by actor Brandon Perea (The OA and Doom Patrol). Through the usage of his character, Peele makes Angel have most of the dialogue written lines that involve aliens and other otherworldly beings, which does make him for an expositional character than most. Yet, it does work. My only problem is that the character has most of the comic lines and Perea, while a good actor, just comes off as a bit too much in those comedy levity moments. Just my opinion.
Further supporting this idea is in the character of Ricky “Jupe” Park, a former child actor and owner / creator of the Western-style theme park “Jupiter’s Claim” and who is played by actor Steven Yeun (Minari and The Walking Dead). The character is quite interesting and plays a large part in the more thematical story elements found in Nope (i.e. read in-between the lines) and Yuen does a good job in creating Jupe with an air of arrogance and subtle swamy bravado under the guise of a likeable persona. Lastly, actor Michael Wincott (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Crow) makes for an interesting character in Antlers Holst, a renowned cinematographer who becomes entangled in the Haywood siblings search to film the otherworldly being in the area. Wincott has always been a good actor, especially with how his voice sounds and how he utter dialogue with great ease, so his appearance in Nope is indeed a welcome one. That being said, he does come late in the movie (roughly around the beginning of the third act), so there isn’t room for him to give his own character supporting arc. Nevertheless, I found him to be an interesting and almost enigmatic character in Nope, which (like the film itself) feels in-line with Peele’s storytelling.
The rest of the cast, including actress Wren Schmidt (For All Mankind and I Saw the Light) as Jupe’s wife Amber Park, actor Keith David (Gargoyles and The Princess and the Frog) as Otis Haywood Sr., and actor Devon Graye (Exeter and Legendary) as the TMZ reporter Ryder Muybridge are delegated to minor supporting characters in the movie. Additionally, actor Jacob Kim (making his debut in the film) as the younger Ricky “Jupe” Park as well as actress Sophia Coto (This Is Us and American Housewife), actor Andrew Patrick Ralston (Veep and Lethal Weapon), and actress Jennifer Lafleur (Big Little Lies and Billions) are the stage actors Mary Jo Elliott, Tom Bogan, and Phyliss Mayberry, who (in return) play the characters of Mikey Houston, Haley Houston, Brett Houston, and Margaret Houston on the show Gordy’s Home. Lastly, stuntman / actor Terry Notary (War for the Planet of the Apes and Kong: Skull Island) does a solid job in doing the motion capture performance of Gordy,
What is a bad miracle…. a phrase that is echoed in the minds of several individuals when an unexpected “alien” visitor comes to Earth and preys upon the surrounding vicinity in the film Nope. Director Jordan Peele’s latest film takes another unique approach to cinematic storytelling by offering and shaping a very interesting take on the UFO / alien horror variety; splashing elements of uneasiness and character-based sequences that he’s know for. While the film’s pacing is a bit unbalanced in the beginning and a few thematical moments aren’t exactly spelled out completely, the movie itself finds a concrete foundation to build around, especially thanks to Peele’s direction, a sharp script (narrative and character builds), a solid presentation, clever visual effects, a profound musical score, a good acting from the entire cast. Personally, I really liked this movie. Yes, it was a bit slow during the first half and some of the sequences were bit boggling when they were presented (Peele getting a bit carried away with more metaphorical themes than just a straightforward narrative), but the payoffs and how everything comes together in the latter half of the feature is definitely worth it. It was thoroughly engaging, with an airy of mystery, intrigue, and unsettling moments that all worked cohesively together, which is why I thought that the film was great. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is solid “highly recommended”, for fans of Peele’s work will flock to see this movie as well as newcomers who are looking for something a bit different from the latest theatrical offering other than the commonplace productions and franchise tentpoles. What lies in store for Peele in his film after Nope is unclear, but I’m sure it’s going expected to even go further beyond this movie presented….and I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store. Nevertheless, Jordan Peele’s Nope finds the right concoction mystery, intrigue, and unsettling horror style moments to make the feature’s “bad miracle” narrative work with a layered story, poignant themes, and clever visual techniques.
4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: July 22nd, 2022
Reviewed On: August 23rd, 2022
Nope is 135 minutes long and is rated R for language throughout and some violence / bloody images