Nope review – suspenseful, visceral, and divisive

July 22, 2022
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews
3.5

Summary

Suspenseful, visceral, and even funny, while carrying an uncommon power and eloquence for the genre, Nope may not be Peele’s best film, but it doesn’t have to be.

3.5

Summary

Suspenseful, visceral, and even funny, while carrying an uncommon power and eloquence for the genre, Nope may not be Peele’s best film, but it doesn’t have to be.

This review of Nope is spoiler-free.


Whatever you think of Jordan Peele’s new horror thriller, Nope, there is no doubt about the fresh, distinct voice he has brought to Hollywood. Peele burst onto the scene with Get Out, the great American horror film of the 21st century. He followed it up with the hypnotic horror allegory Us, which has a performance from Lupita Nyong’o that will be talked about for decades to come (as well as her shocking omission for an Oscar nomination). His third film is the most mainstream, big-budget, and studio film he has made so far, even if some of the plot points don’t quite connect. 

Here, we follow two storylines that eventually begin to converge, but not in the way you would think. The main plotline follows the owner and operator of a desolate California ranch, Otis Haywood Sr (David Keith), along with his son, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya), who helps him run it. One beautiful day, with a few clouds that seemed to crack the sky, tiny metal objects began to descend from above. One of them strikes OJ’s father, effectively killing him. That sparks his sister, Emerald or “Em” (Keke Palmer), to take a hand in the family business, which has an establishment that trains and sells horses for film and television. Their hook? A legacy as their claim to fame is their great-great-grandfather rode the stallion in the famous The Horse in Motion film. 

Em has her in the clouds, wanting to break into la la land’s most significant industry. She accompanies her brother to some Hollywood screen tests. They also meet Ricky “Jupe” Park (played by Minari’s Steven Yeun, equipped with a killer monologue about Chris Kattan — trust me). OJ has developed a business relationship with him. He is a former child star of the infamous sitcom Gordy’s Home, a show with a chimpanzee who played the titular character who, out of normal behavior, attacks and kills members of the cast, soundstage crew, and a few filmed in front of a studio audience types. He now runs Jupiter’s Claim, an old-timey western show with his family. He plans to buy a horse from the Haywood ranch for his next act. 

Peele’s script is an old-fashioned horror film that builds more suspense than produces jump scares, but that’s a good thing. The mystery builds slowly. With each passing scene, the Haywood Ranch horses begin to be frightened by mysterious happenings around the desolate land. They hire Angel (Brandon Perea), a guy from Fry’s Electric (I had no idea these were still around), to install cameras and a backup system. Why? To record whatever is going on at night, causing their animals to scatter and all electrical devices to shut down. This is a whip-smart script that has enough faith in its audience to know patience is a virtue. Peele slowly peels back layer after potent layer that reveals what is happening in the story. 

His script is also steeped in symbolism. Horror films are about anxiety. Just imagine living in a world, say, where authorities could shoot you without provocation because of your skin color? Here, a subplot is while many characters look towards the sky, the black characters learn to keep their heads down. Why? Because if they look up, they may be killed. This is akin to generations of African Americans who were taught to keep their heads down to survive. This persists transgenerationally and is pervasive.  

You will also notice the use of white in Nope that looms over the main characters, symbolizing oppression. And later, when a character appears, we do not know their ethnicity, has a helmet that reflects everything around them. So, when they look above, what happens next can be interpreted in several ways. One can be a dose of cancel culture. The other is someone is getting a taste of their own medicine. The talk of the ancestor who rode the first horse on film can be linked to an extensive list of black men and women never getting credit for their place in history. As you will notice, Em is tirelessly working to capture the image of whatever is going on in the sea clouds above that California gulch.  

However, when it comes down to it, Nope is just a very good horror film experience. This is a suspenseful experience that can be genuinely terrifying at times. There’s a scene that will give you claustrophobic nightmares for years. And while the film’s most divisive plot point, a scene about control, revisits Gordy after going on a murderous rampage, it does not seem to connect — though you may argue whatever was happening to the Haywood Ranch horses that day on set — to the film’s overall plot. You cannot argue how unique this becomes. It simply has never been done before and has the power to be interpreted in multiple ways. 

Suspenseful, visceral, and even funny, while carrying an uncommon power and eloquence for the genre, Nope may not be Peele’s best film, but it doesn’t have to be.  

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