“Nope” – Yep.
The meteoric rise of Jordan Peele in the film world brings to mind the same rise that M. Night Shyamalan experienced. While Shyamlan’s directorial debut (Wide Awake) was an absolute bomb, his next three films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs) were widely acclaimed and box office successes. Plus, The Sixth Sense garnered a couple of Oscar nominations for Shyamalan. Similarly, Peele’s first two films (Get Out and Us) were widely acclaimed, box office successes, and Get Out was nominated for some Oscars. Continuing in Shyamalan’s footsteps, Peele’s third movie, Nope, dives into aliens and UFOs.
In case you are getting concerned about this parallel, you can probably relax. There are plenty of differences between him and Shyamalan to indicate Peele won’t fall off a cliff into a pile of his own shitty movies. For starters, Peele’s films are far better at weaving social issues into the broader narrative of the films. In fact, it’s tough to argue that Shyamalan’s films include social issues at all, let alone deep commentary on them. They also come from very different film backgrounds. Shyamalan has always been a director/producer/writer. I’d include actor, but his various cameos show he has no business being on the lens side of the camera. Conversely, Peele came up doing years of sketch comedy (Mad TV, Key & Peele) before breaking out as a director/writer/producer with Get Out. On that note, while Shyamalan did not win any awards for The Sixth Sense, Peele won Best Original Screenplay for Get Out.
Like with Us, I’m going to talk about some stuff in Nope without spoiling anything major for you. The point here is to get you even more excited and intrigued to see Nope than you already should be. And you already should be. The initial preview was excellent, though you definitely want to stay away from the other previews that have been released. I accidentally saw one before the latest Jurassic World movie and I was afraid that much of Nope had been spoiled for me (it turned out okay). My point is…aliens.
Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) is struggling to keep his family’s Hollywood horse wrangling business afloat (they train horses to work in TV and film). His father, Otis Sr. (Keith David), was very well-regarded in the industry, but was killed six months earlier by debris falling from the sky. After a commercial shoot goes bad, OJ is forced to admit to his sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), that he has been selling horses to a local carnival owner, Jupe (Steven Yeun), to keep paying the bills. One day, OJ sees something strange causing his horses to go wild, eventually telling Emerald that he saw a UFO. Always looking to make a quick buck, Emerald hatches a plan to take a picture of the UFO, believing this is their chance to get rich. While OJ is on board with the plan, he is far more down-to-Earth in his reactions. Eventually, they get some help from Angel (Brandon Perea), a local Fry’s Electronics technician / alien conspiracy theorist, and Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), a famous cinematographer. No, seriously, those are the characters’ names.
Rather than a deep commentary on a serious social issue, Peele takes aim at the UFO debate by playing with many of the tropes associated with UFOs and providing answers to the questions posed by those tropes. Animal mutilations, abductions, sucking people up with a tractor beam, electrical interference, the shape and movement of UFOs, people trying to profit off UFOs, and even the idea that people never see UFOs directly – all are given explanations in the film. Peele even addresses the fact that UFOs are now referred to as UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) and why the term was changed. It’s a brilliant take on the aliens-are-among-us topic that is one part horror, one part curious, one part playful, and one part satire. It’s so well-portrayed that even people who truly believe aliens are here could see the movie as a slap in the face or a legitimate explanation confirming their belief.
If there is one flaw with Nope, it’s a subplot involving Jupe’s childhood that doesn’t seem to tie into the greater plot. Given Peele’s attention to detail, another viewing of the film might reveal the connection, but I just couldn’t figure out how a chimpanzee killing everyone on the set of a TV show (except Jupe) tied into the rest of the film. It didn’t even seem to do much to develop Jupe’s character. He just seemed to be another guy Hollywood spit out. Good thing this movie is good enough for me to want to watch again to find that connection.
And I really must stress how good Nope is. I can list off all the components as being good to great (and I will say the acting was great), but it’s better to just tell you that you won’t blink during the film. You’ll be watching the sky along with OJ, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever is there. You won’t want to miss the little details of foreshadowing Peele loves to incorporate throughout his films. You’ll be breathing as lightly as possible, trying to hear something when all falls silent at OJ’s ranch. You’ll be unable to pull your eyes away from something your brain never considered as a possible explanation for UFOs. And you will greatly appreciate every time a character says “nope” when confronted with a standard horror movie decision and choosing not to be “that guy.”
Besides Shyamalan, there is another director that Peele seems to be paralleling. Another director who burst onto the Hollywood scene almost immediately upon his debut, whose first three films were all extremely well-received, one of which won some Oscars and the third of which is about aliens visiting Earth. Another director who, had you not known Peele directed Nope, you might have guessed directed Nope and who several people cited immediately when asked what they thought of Nope. If I’m right about Peele’s trajectory, we can look forward to the next Spielberg rather than the next Shyamalan.
Rating: Yep – worth your entire family’s ticket cost.