Flying saucers, killer apes, and balloons are the things that will stick in your mind after seeing Jordan Peele’s Nope. The “Nope” in Nope is killer aliens who want to suck everything up in a spaceship that’s a mix between a parade float and an expanding sphincter. Going for something a little lighter than his usual hopelessness, Jordan Peele creates a conventional yet clever alien invasion picture that falls a tad short in driving its points home. But it is a fun ride throughout regardless.
Opening with a massacre, Nope grabs your attention off the bat with Peele’s usual mystique. On the set of a sitcom, a performance monkey goes bananas. Whoever worked on the show that day was either torn limb from limb or ran out of the studio before they could be killed. Next, we cut to a modern-day ranch with O.J. Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his father Otis (Kieth David). After a small exchange of disposable banter, the sky rains with keys, one of which impairs Otis’ head, resulting in his death. How or why it happened is up to O.J. and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) to find out.
The plot of Nope is familiar to anyone who’s seen any mid-90s alien invasion flick. A flying saucer arrives in town, sending its inhabitants in disarray. What sets Nope apart from the others is its technical achievements. There’s enough atmosphere in the cinematography and sound department’s design to suck you right into the picture. The shot selection is a warm welcome from how movies are usually filmed. Mr. Peele refuses to import the lazy three-camera setup that goes from master to over-the-shoulder shots.
Instead, Peele plans his shots where many scenes linger on a character or object to draw the audience’s attention to what’s in the frame. D.P. Hoyte Van Hoytema settles for a wider depth of field, requiring greater concentration from the production design department to ensure nothing in the frame goes to waste since it will be in focus. The vast empty land of the California ranch our heroes occupy is richly accentuated in Huma’s usage of iMax 70mm print.
Although filmed in iMax, the movie takes a minimalistic approach, only choosing to show so much, leaving much work to be done in the sound department. A great deal of original sound is used, emphasizing pholy over library stored effects. By trying to create ambiance from what the audience isn’t supposed to see, the sound must paint a picture for the viewer’s mind. And a portrait the sound mixers achieve with flying colors. The subwoofers in the theater will give you a nice butt massage when the spaceship enters the scene. When a hoarse runs by, you’ll unconsciously turn your head in its direction and you’ll want to regurgitate your popcorn when listening to a monkey turning someone’s brains into spaghetti.
Retreading from more serious topics like mind control and racism (mostly), Nope escapes into comfy commercialism. Constantly balancing the line between humor and horror, Mr. Peele leans more heavily towards the funnier side of things this time than in his previous directorial attempts. If not for a cast that works so well, the film’s jokey-ness could have strangled the life out of its horror elements. Keke Palmer plays a dope-smoking girl with a bright demeanor that doesn’t give a toss what you think about her. Keke brings a degree of sarcasm with loving charm to make her jokes land where they should, never pushing herself into annoying quippy sidekick territory.
To play the opposite of Keke’s self-awareness is her straight-shooting brother. Although I appreciate the persona dynamic between the siblings, Daniel Kaluuya has the energy of a zombie. I understand he’s the guy who keeps a cool head, but could he show at least a hair of fear or concern? Even Gandhi would probably exclaim a “W.T.F” when a flying saucer devours people like Taco Bell meat in front of his very eyes. To help the siblings on their quest is an A.V. tech working in a Circuit City knockoff. Angel Perez (Brandon Perea) is a burnout twenty-some-year-old who doesn’t understand the meaning of personal space.
Despite being obnoxious, Mr. Perea makes his character likelier than he should be from the words put on the script. You know Angel means well, but he’s possibly on the spectrum, causing him to come across as a jerk. If I wish this movie were about someone, it would be Steven Yeun, who witnessed the aforesaid chimpanzee’s murder as a child. If anyone were to have motivation for killing aliens, it would be him! Yeun plays his role to a degree of joy, closure, and denial, making him the film’s breakout performance.
Closing the cast out is veteran actor (God, that makes me feel old) Michael Wincott. You may know Mr. Wincott best as Top Dollar from The Crow. In Nope, Wincott plays Antlers Holst, a director known as the Godfather of capturing animals on film. Wincott’s iconic hoarse voice fits his grizzled yet kind character like a glove. Most of anyone can play rough, but not sweet the way Wincott has in other roles. There’s a degree of pain you can feel Wincott projecting onto his character that may be pulled from a long, yet unnoticed career in acting.
I wasn’t a fan of Get Out’s ending. It felt too pleasing where it could conceivably be a studio decision. Whereas Us’s ending is excellent since it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Nope, feels a lot like Get Out, where the thematic gears switch into something that’s very crowd friendly. Get Out stands on its own two feet for its first two acts. What begins as a thriller devolves into another slasher, with the protagonist slaying the film’s villains. The final moments of Nope transform from total mystery into a formulaic disaster movie. The defense capable of defeating the aliens is similar to The War of The Worlds and Signs, deflating the balloon of drama Mr. Peele inflates throughout the picture. Luckily, it’s not enough to pop the air out of the movie.
There are points brought up earlier in the film about nonwhites still not being recognized in the film industry and animal cruelty that gets abandoned amidst the crop dusting tornados within the picture’s final moments. However, not every Jordan Peele movie has to be a knee-jerk reaction to humanity’s final century. Jordan has made his comments about racism in America with Get Out. Doubling down on his ambivalence was Us’s critique on violent tribalism.
There’s no risk villainized on aliens since they’re a party not in attendance, as far as we know. I’m just not sure why Mr. Peal introduces such controversial topics if only to abandon them later. For your money’s worth, Nope will provide you with the chills, laughs, and thrills to enjoy a good old-fashioned time at the movies.