MPAA Rating: R
CNS Rating: L
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 reels
Nope is the third film from comedian-turned-serious director, writer, and producer Jordan Peele, who has now established himself as one of the premiere cerebral horror artists of his generation. His first film, Get Out, jolted the genre out of its torture porn and jump scare obsession. Nope was my most anticipated film of the year, partially because of Peele and partially because it was an alien-themed movie. I knew a twist had to be coming, and was not disappointed. This was a fun and fantastic thriller, one of the most pleasing cinematic experiences of the year.
OJ (Peele regular Daniel Kaluuya) is one of the dying breed of horse wranglers for Hollywood movies. His father recently died under mysterious circumstances, leaving the family business in uncertain waters. His only regular client is the eccentric theme park owner next door, who is buying his older horses at an alarming rate. As the months wear on, OJ notices odd things happening at the ranch: strange power outages, weird noises, and animals acting erratically.
Suddenly, he sees the culprit: a flying saucer. Determined that getting “the Oprah shot” will solve his financial woes, he teams up with his sister, a Fry’s tech wizard and renowned cinematographer, to capture the aliens on film. What he does capture is more wonderful and terrifying than anyone could imagine.
Nope is a masterpiece of summer blockbuster entertainment, except without the “buster” part. Peele is a master of plot pacing, leaving little breadcrumbs the audience knows will be important later but isn’t exactly sure why. Slowly, the puzzle pieces come together. Some characters get it first, others later—and the audience somewhere in the middle.
Peele also knows how to create visual and auditory suspense. Whenever the ship is near, electronics slow down and stop, like the shark fin over the water in Jaws. The craft acts in strange ways for reasons that only become clear later in the story, creating a fantastic payoff. Purely on its merits of structure, Nope is one of the best films of the year so far.
Early in the film, one of OJ’s horses is being used in a commercial. When an actor disobeys a clear order and a horse kicks over the makeup set, the animal and trainer are immediately fired, to be replaced by a CGI stand-in. It’s a good metaphor for society’s reliance on technology, refusing to work with natural objects and precepts, instead using easy technological tricks and methods.
Such methods, however, are useless against the alien foe, which incapacitates all electronic devices. OJ, with his knowledge and wisdom of animals, is the only one capable of dealing with the threat and of bringing his family (and perhaps the entire world) to safety. It’s a potent reminder that, however disconnected we may be, we humans live in a real world that operates with natural laws we ignore at our peril.
I’m resisting spoilers in this review, although the keen reader might see of my own breadcrumbs in this review. Like many other great horror films, Nope leaves plenty of questions along with its answers—not necessarily to invite a sequel but to allow space in the viewers’ imagination for reflection and speculation. Nope was great fun, and I look forward to seeing it a second time.
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