Nope Movie Review: Jordan Peele’s Third Movie Is A Satisfying Sight
In 1997 Austrian author Michael Haneke made the metatextual horror film funny games. It was a brilliant and damning critique of the mainstream spectacle of on-screen violence and (primarily American) public bloodlust. 25 years later – after 9/11, YouTube, the iPhone and social media – influential comedian-turned-director Jordan Peele attempts to achieve a similar feat with Nopeits sequel to We and get out.
It’s a frivolous comparison: one is built in Hollywood, the other is a European arthouse. But Haneke says more about the show in a vacation home than Peele attempts across a vast California valley, and the prodigiously overbudget only manages to dull Nope“s a strong potential. Perhaps the contradiction of scrutinizing the show while doing an IMAX spectacular was too great a paradox to overcome.
(LR) Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Brandon Perea as OJ, Emerald and Angel in Nope. Photo: UPI
This does not mean Nope is unambitious: it is Peele’s most experimental effort. The film opens with a Bible verse about the show before switching to an unforgettable surreal shot of a chimpanzee on a sitcom set. That eerie, slow-paced tone (a departure from his previous films) continues in the hot, desolate hills of Southern California, following a family of horse breeders who lend and train horses for the movies. .
After some strange occurrences, involving coins and keys falling from the sky, rancher brothers OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) realize a UFO is purring above their land. Rather than resorting to the Close Encounters solution of soldiers and scientists, the brother/sister pair decide to capture the thing on camera and kill with the evidence. But it has to be the perfect cliché: “impossible”, worthy of Oprah.
Kaluuya is oddly listless as OJ, which suits the character’s evasive and introverted personality. This contrasts with Palmer as the stage-stealing younger sister, who craves that attention. Their sibling chemistry is infectious — rivals one minute, best friends the next — and it’s one of the film’s strongest assets. No surprise given Peele’s comedic experience with pleasantly funny duets.
But aside from their horse-loaning business, which isn’t doing very well (for reasons best left undisclosed here), OJ and Em’s motives aren’t very compelling. As the UFO grows more menacing, would the characters really risk their lives to take a photo that may or may not be believed?
Steven Yeun as Ricky Park in Nope. Photo: UPI
Although the premise and execution – peppered with plenty of WTF moments – carry your curiosity to the end, the desired payoffs often plummet. A scrapped storyline involves former sitcom star Ricky Park (delicately played by minari‘s Steven Yeun), who runs a nearby Wild West theme park and has an intense and violent storyline. But don’t expect a narrative raison behind this backstory…because there is none. Peele expects you to be satisfied with Yeun’s blank stare at his own trauma. A surprising waste of a great actor.
You have a lot with Nope: expectations rise and fly like the UFO, only to land with a collectively disappointing crash as the end credits roll. It’s Peele’s longest film at 130 minutes and his most expensive at $68 million, and you have to wonder why all those loose threads and prevarications were necessary.
Worse, Peele barely pierces the idea of spectacle. Nope unfolds like a dark and compelling sci-fi, but ends with a theme park ride in two acts. Is that the goal: spectacle without satisfaction? Or did Peele simply have a topical theme, story fragments, and a misguided determination to glue them together?
Nope will be in UK cinemas on Friday 12 August.