Nope Movie Review: Jordan Peele shows how his weakest film can still be a spectacle
In what can be easily brushed off as a straightforward alien film where the humans finally come on top, it's the 'whys' and 'hows' that define Nope and makes it an intriguing watch
Director Jordon Peele, who made his mark with the mind-bending Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), is back with his third film, Nope. While it might not match with his previous hits when it comes to narratory choices or storytelling excellence, it still packs a punch thanks to the underlying themes and interpretations that have become a much-welcomed trope in this filmmaker's films.
A common aspect in all his films has been the protagonist(s) finding themselves to be in a sticky situation and how they get on top of it by figuring out a way to wiggle themselves out of it, and Nope follows that to the T. After the fantastic first look poster which, unfortunately, also gave me a Cowboys & Aliens vibe, the film proved to be anything but an alien mess like the 2011 film. After all, it's very few filmmakers like Peele that can make unbelievable aliens films grounded and pragmatic - words that we rarely get to use for this genre.
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott
When two ranch-owning siblings, Otis Jr. "OJ" Haywood and Emerald "Em" Haywood (played by the brilliant duo of Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer respectively) confirm that their horses are being abducted by aliens, their financial situation prevents them from escaping from the location and rather makes them attempt to capture evidence of the UFO. Em calls that the 'Oprah shot' and that can probably put an end to their woes. When they finally get to know that there is more to it than meets the eye, they devise a method to track the creature and put an end to its rampage.
In what can be easily brushed off as a straightforward alien film where the humans finally come on top, it's the 'whys' and 'hows' that define Nope and makes it an intriguing watch. The film starts with the Bible verse Nahum 3:6 - "I will cast abominable filth at you. Make you vile. And make you a spectacle" and boy, the film's themes lean more towards spectacle and the exploitation of labour. Peele's style of intertwining fiction with historical events and trending topics hit an all-time high with Nope. Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion saw a series of photographs assembled to create a motion picture and the most famous one involves a black jockey riding a thoroughbred bay mare. As a classic example of history forgetting what shouldn't be forgotten - and in this case, the erasure of the contributions of people of colour to the evolution of filmmaking - there's no record of the black jockey who rode the horse and Nope gives it a sense of identification. In the film, the Haywoods call that man their ancestor and it explains how their livelihood now involves handling handles horses for film and television productions.
Peele also cited the pandemic and the lockdown as the inspiration for how his protagonists get stuck in an inescapable grim situation and it shows. The film showcases how the siblings decide on handling the situation by initially not handling it and trying to make a quick buck off of it... which also happens to be the idea of Ricky "Jupe" Park (Steven Yeun), a former child actor with a traumatic past, who buys horses from OJ to make a live show involving the UFO. The underlying messages are open for multiple interpretations and one of them that stares right at us is how those holding the reins of this mammoth film industry have no qualms squashing the lives of those who just want to be a part of it.
Beneath the other-worldly issue lies the simple yet beautiful tale of siblings with different beliefs and aims, and how the greater evil brings them closer. While Kaluuya's OJ is the stoic horseman who specialises in taming beasts - a talent that comes in quite handy later - and can be compared to the cogs that work behind the scenes of the industry, Palmer's Em is full of life and the side of Hollywood that the audience is accustomed to. As meta as it might sound, Peele's influence from yesteryear TV shows and monster flicks like Jaws is quite apparent in Nope. As a man who started his career with the sketch comedy series Mad TV, his homage is no surprise. What takes us pleasantly aback is his style of dark humour that seems to have taken a monstrous leap with Nope. The title itself is easily the most uttered word in the film and in almost all cases, it evokes laughter despite impending doom luring over our heroes.
Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does a brilliant job of shifting between tight shots inside Haywoods' house to the vast outdoors and it helps in establishing terror in the form of claustrophobia as well as a sense of 'you can run but you can't hide'. On the direction front, more than the actual story, it's the smaller sub-plots and intricate detailing Peele adds that makes the film stand apart from other alien films. In a throwaway line, OJ recalls how his horses were supposed to be a part of the Scorpion King film until its makers decided to go with camels instead of horses and this reference makes a comeback in the climax when he rides his horse sporting a Scorpion King crew hoodie. The film is split into chapters of sorts with each being named after the animals that appear in the film - Ghost, Clover, Gordy and Lucky, and even the alien is christened Jean Jacket, based on one of their horses. Peele's fascination with animals is also evident with Nope and if it's deers in Get Out and rabbits in Us, it's horses and a chimpanzee in this new film.
On the whole, Nope is definitely not on par with the filmmaker's first two films when it comes to its well-roundedness, the finesse with its storytelling abilities and the big twists that completely change the way the film has been viewed. But that doesn't take away the fact that Nope is neatly conceived and made sci-fi horror that understands the elements of the genre and does a great job of satiating the pangs of its fans. Given how it's widely reported that the fate of our leads was left in a certain manner as there might be a potential sequel for Nope, all we want to say is, "hell yes"!