“The residents of a lonely gulch in inland California bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery.”

Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Staring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun, Keith David
Release Date: July 22, 2022
IMDB

Jordan Peele is one of very few directors who currently have the “must watch” tag on them. He is in the elite company of Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, and Denis Villenueve. Peele has the knack, and more importantly a deep appreciation, for the horror genre. He set the tone with his directorial debut Get Up (2017) and increased the fears with Us (2019). Now there is Nope (2022), the next installment in his young and respected resume.

Nope is a science fiction thriller that takes place in a lonely, desolate gulch in the heart of isolated California. OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) finds himself in charge of his dad’s struggling horse ranch, and with the help of his outspoken sister Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer), they rent out their trained horses to Hollywood films for practical effects. 

OJ is a hardworking and quiet man who likes getting his work done and sticking to what is logical and rational. That practical mindset is flipped upside down when he sees undeniable proof that there is a UFO patrolling the skies over his home and his work. OJ and Emerald decide to make the most of this anomaly and head to a local technology store to get cameras to capture the oddity. There they meet up with Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), and the brother and sister duo becomes a trio with a depressed and heartbroken lonely duckling.

What was a seemingly simple camera shot and profit scheme turns dark and dangerous when the true nature of this UFO entity begins to unfold. There are increasingly odd events and disappearances occurring, and the paranoia is earned when there is a tragedy at a local western themed amusement park owned by Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun). Oj, Emerald and Angel are now in a battle for survival, and this danger helps Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) convince himself to enter the fray. Antlers is a famous cinematographer in Hollywood and he has been in search of the perfect shot. He deems this a worthy chance.

The quartet of OJ, Emerald, Angel and Antlers set up a final showdown against the UFO. The Haywood family is fighting for its family home but also have the side quest of getting the perfect proof of aliens to monetize. Angel has found his escape from heartbreak and boredom, any possible death is better than that emotional hell pit we met him in. Antlers wants the perfect shot of this undefined thing, and he wants the fulfillment that will come from capturing something nobody else has.

Jordan Peel penned Nope with lots of influence. It is a love letter to Westerns, alien mysteries and one movie in particular: Jaws (1975). Nope is Jaws set in the sky. This alien UFO is the shark. It hides in the shadows, dancing in and out of visibility, tormenting its victims with not only its physical presence, but also its lingering aura.

The mythical devourer is not the only connection between the two movies. The characters in Nope match up with different characters in Jaws

OJ is Matt Hooper; he knows the evil thing best. He understands its tendencies and he understands best the fight that he and his group are up against. OJ is willing to do and be whatever necessary to defeat the evil, even if it puts him in harm’s way. 

Emerald is Martin Brody; she is scared of the situation and is working in an unfamiliar place. Emerald has never felt at home on the ranch, much like how Brody was not accustomed to the waters of Amity. 

Antlers is Quint. He is a man specialized in one thing and one thing only. His sole purpose is to complete his sole task to the highest degree. Antlers is willing to fuck the plan and everyone’s wishes if it means he can get what he desires.

There are even more connections that can be drawn between Nope and Jaws, but to explore those would mean to spoil the movie. I’m not in the business of doing that with the movie still being fresh in theaters. Also, not sure if Hollywood is this in synch, but the fact that Jaws is being re-released in IMAX on labor day weekend and that trailer player before this movie is a very strange coincidence.

Peele writes a major movie with a purpose. Get Out and Us have a social commentary theme woven in and out of every scene. In Nope, the message is not as easily unfurled for the audience to dissect. There are strands that you can pull on; but the tapestry they are a part of is not entirely in focus. Peele gets his point across, but it’s a bit more straining than his other two ventures.

Nope is commentary in some capacity on the idea of being tamed and broken. 

When you train something to obey commands or societal rules, you are naturally killing a bit of the free spirit that something once possessed. All things go fine as long as the rules are followed, but When that animal or being is reminded or triggered of its true self, then danger is inevitable. You can break something and tape it with band-aids, but when those bandages lose their grip and all hell breaks loose.

This theme is most illustrated in the backstory of Ricky Park. The former child star still latches onto a short-lived television show that starred a monkey. One day the ape lost control on set, and nobody wants to see a kept-upright chimp with untapped frustration. 

When someone who is trained to behave a certain way suddenly snaps out of their daze and reverts back to their true character instincts and traits, then all rationality is tossed off the table. All that untapped emotion, rage, and frustration can lead anyone or anything to an explosive outburst.

Steven Yeun as Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park

While his thematic writing may not have been as poingnet as his first two projects, Peele’s ability to create tension and visually striking moments is still remarkable for such a young director. Nope looks fantastic, and more importantly it feels so fucking satisftying. Nope tells its visual story so well that you don’t need to go looking for any motifs or lessons to be learned. You can watch Nope just for the pure entertainment and you will be happily rewarded.

There is a 20 minutes stretch in this movie that is so wonderfully tense that you have no choice but to have a suppressed grin of “holy shit” on your face. Ricky Park is giving a live show at this amusement park promising the hungry audience that they will see something that they have never seen before. Folks, he wasn’t lying. That is followed up by OJ having to make a night time venture back from the amusement park to his home, where Emerald and Angel are having to deal with their traumatic event that will surely leave emotional scars. This sequence is outstanding. It is the stretch of Nope where the directing, writing and acting all fit together for supremely satisfying suspense.

Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood

Daniel Kaluuya takes the lead role in Nope and does what he always does. He creates something that is so hard to look away from. When OJ is not the main speaker in a scene, you are looking to see what Kaluuya is doing for a reaction. The character of OJ fits into the mold of quiet confident types that Kaluuya has had success in before. It fits the western themes of Nope because OJ is like the quiet cowboy who knows all the answers but is slow to let everyone in on the information. He is the lurker in the saloon who can be the lone man left standing, if he so chooses to be. He has the smarts more than the brawn, and he is has the utmost faith that his intellect is better than his opponent’s brawn.

Keke Palmer is a ball of energy. She is the opposite of OJ in that she is not afraid to speak out on things she sees and feels. She is not afraid to let everyone know what she is all about. Playing the sibling counterpart to OJ, it is fun to see the two interact. There is a family love there that is tested in the beginning with different approaches to life’s problems, but once a giant UFO enters the equation, both Emerald and OJ agree to sign on the same dotted line for survival.

The stand out performer in Nope is Michael Wincott. Holy shit with a heat check. This man is in the movie for no more than a third of it, but he leaves a burning impression on the story and the viewers. The character of Antlers Host speaks in grunts and cryptic messages, and with Wincott’s gravelly voice, each line has extra gravitas.

“This dream you’re chasing… where you end up at the top of the mountain… it’s the one you never wake up from.”

Antlers only speaks as if he is quoting a sage out-of-this-universe being

Now for the trite summary that someone else has surely written. Nope is definitely worth a “YUP”. Jordan Peele creates a story that pays homage to classic science fiction alien movies, and the original summer blockbuster. Truly a unique blend. Nope is added to the mural of Peele’s canvas of success, even if its underlying thematic message isn’t as fleshed out as his previous two movies. I mean, who am I to try and fully understand what Peele is trying to say? 

You will not be gripping onto your arm chair in terror, but you will be holding your breath in moments of expertly crafted tension. While you are letting the movie wash over you, try and look for more homages that Peele pays. Jaws is not the only one. As an example, you can pick up traces of The Thing (1982) and The Amityville Horror (1979) pretty easily.

Nope crossed 40 million dollars for its opening weekend. The budget for Nope was about 68 millions dollars, so there is a very solid chance that it remains a profitable project. Peele projects get word of mouth going, You’ll get sucked into a conversation about it, and be sure you can participate. Go see Nope.

STANKO RATING: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)


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