When it comes to writer/director Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us)
you know you are not getting something conventional, so when the equally simply - but ambiguously - titled Nope
seemed to bare the trademarks of an alien invasion offering, I expected something a bit different. I expected Nope
to be weird and a different spin on things, and yet even I was still taken aback by just how wonderfully odd a cinema experience it was.
Telling the story of the family owned Haywood ranch, which trains horses for television and film, this film sees siblings Otis (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) witness something otherworldly in the skies at night. As the days pass, this unidentified flying object keeps on appearing, bringing with it some strange occurrences but also a golden opportunity to capture the perfect shot of something miraculous…if also dangerous.
At face value, Nope
is certainly a movie that might seem flat out absurd for many viewers, its unusual screenplay likely being far far removed from what was expected by many. But, the effort invested in deciphering its distinctive patterns is very well worth it, because this is a big screen spectacle littered with crucial subtleties, many that I certainly missed on my first viewing. Even on initial watching though, it is a film that stays with you.
Despite some clear Spielbergian influence, particularly Jaws
and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
, this one actually has more in common with M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs
, by way of Denis Villeneuve's Arrival
and Gareth Edwards' Monsters
, with further tips of the cowboy hat to some equally unexpected films and inspirations (all hail The Scorpion King
and Westerns). Yet, even then, Nope
defies any firm comparison piece.
It's original, unusual and meshes blockbuster thrill with read-into-it detail. There are so many themes you can take from it but I feel a particular sub-plot story is the real key. And it is a sub-plot many will look at in horror and confusion, as I did initially I must say. This gruesome and primal strand in Peele’s film, led me to think this slow burner was one thing, when it was in fact another, but with perhaps the same point…only even sadder. This “Gordy” story is the very backbone of Peele’s vision, which sets up so much of what else surrounds/follows it.
In a film that discusses the industry’s shifting focus away from art, downplaying of certain worker’s roles in cinema history and racially skewed focuses, Peele’s sci-fi/horror fable takes in a much darker core meaning off the back of that sub-plot. Nope
adeptly depicts how mankind mythologises and makes entertainment and marketing out of very real tragedy and suffering, and how we rationalise our trauma through fiction and the idea of a miracle.
Life’s horrors are bad one minute and a T-shirt slogan or meme the very next. And what’s more its takes on exploitation do largely not refer to human beings (although in some ways this is picked up on too) but rather our mistreatment animals for the purposes of entertainment or the idea - some might say fallacy - of conquering/taming nature. Animals are at the very heart of this story and it is a point we all could do with hearing.
I was reading a piece by writer Molly Kusilka and it acted as the prefect eureka moment! Nope
is very much a nature attacks story in many senses, and a rather tragic one. The central ‘villain’ is not what stalks the skies but those which walk on the earth gazing at it with their i-phones out, desperate for that money maker shot and fame that comes with it. Or the “Oprah shot” as the film so very succinctly puts it, again expanding upon the aforementioned wider meaning it takes, and bringing in the very real story of Travis the chimpanzee that has inspired it and Peele’s entire film.
Ending at an unforgettable and far darker than it seems conclusion, this cinema experience is one to talk about and take in, but also one to thoroughly enjoy, and that is in no small part to the performances which keep it galloping. Palmer is superb as the joyous and charismatic Emerald, and she operates at a complete opposite tangent to her more restrained and quiet brother, sturdily portrayed by Kaluuya. There are also some great supporting turns by Steven Yuen, Brandon Perea and a scene sterlingly beaten down and gruff Michael Wincott.
The film’s audio-visual reach matches its written and acted one, with spectacular cinematography by Hoyte von Hoytema and a genre-meshed score by Michael Abels which thunders at points, while the background tones amass and stick in your mind and suggest a greater importance to the many visual elements you are taking in, and how Peele sometimes very subtly presents them. The design of the extraterrestrial force is also worthy of note, being both very distinctive because in some ways it is familiar to some majestic creations of nature that exist already, and that we likewise try to contain and control.
is an ambitious, polarising and thoughtful piece of work, that invites discussion, while also offering the chance of cinematic escape and triumph. It really depends how deep and dark you care to go. I could write about it for a long time.
It’ll have you looking up to the skies and clouds, thinking about what they contain, whilst also pondering about how we treat the life here below with us. A film to watch, rewatch and take note of the small things. As they are really the biggest.
Directors: Jordan Peele
Starring: Keke Palmer, Daniel Kaluuya, Steven Yuen, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott.
Release Date: Out Now (Cinemas)