Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
Jordan Peele has proven to be one of the most interesting and exciting filmmakers of the last few years. His debut feature, Get Out (2017), not only positioned him as a director on the rise, but also one of the greatest and most original storytellers of the decade. That success was reinforced further by Us (2019), a delightfully frightening outing which excited audiences just as much as it perplexed them. Between these two efforts, Peele’s name will forever be associated with suspenseful and chilling storytelling, but there are some who still haven’t decided whether he’s the next Steven Spielberg (a true master) or the next M. Night Shyamalan (a one trick pony). As such, many are watching Peele’s latest offering, Nope (2022), very closely.
As the film opens we are introduced to OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em Haywood (Keke Palmer), a brother-sister team operating a horse wrangling business for film productions. Their company is technically Hollywood royalty, as the family business descends from the very first man ever filmed to be riding a horse. The pair have been forced to run things themselves ever since their father Otis Senior (Keith David) mysteriously passed away. Ever since then, OJ has been carefully observing the skies around the ranch, as Otis’ death had something to do with random debris falling from the clouds. Every night, the sky feels spookier and spookier, causing OJ and Em to wonder if UFO’s may be present. Therefore, OJ and Em embark on a mission to try and capture these strange occurrences on film, hoping to achieve their goal before anyone else gets hurt.
Between Get Out, Us and now Nope, it’s clear that Jordan Peele’s particular brand of suspense pushes him into horror. Despite the genre’s reputation for being cheap trash, horror is one of the most broad cinematic styles, allowing for near unlimited creative expression. It can be psychological, metaphysical, mystical or investigational (sometimes it can all of them at once). As such, horror can easily be blended with different genres, as proven by such films as The Exorcist (1973), The Thing (1982), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Black Swan (2010). As such, Peele has styled Nope as an extraterrestrial film in the vein of Arrival (2016) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Whereas those stories highlighted the wonder of a first-contact experience, Nope highlights the unbridled terror of such an encounter. This is a highly effective direction, as it makes us fearful of the unknown along with being interested in it.
Peele’s genre subversion isn’t merely limited to science-fiction, as the actual horror elements are displayed in a wonderfully intelligent fashion. Whenever we watch a scary movie, we are always yelling at the characters to not split up, not open that door, or not look down that hole. With most films in the genre, the audience just has to accept that if the characters behaved in a completely logical way 100 percent of the time, there would be no movie. It’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ agreement filmmakers have with the viewer, thus allowing for the thrills and scares. Nope’s most impressive achievement is that we are given characters who make clear minded decisions without compromising the narrative tension. From a certain point of view, this brilliant trick has rewritten the rule book on effective horror.
With that in mind, it’s important to note that Nope isn’t all about slow building tension, as certain moments, scenes and images could definitely qualify as nightmare fuel. These sequences will be seared into your memory as powerfully as Psycho’s (1960) infamous shower scene, or even give you chills on par with John Williams’ nail-biting Jaws (1975) theme. Peele thankfully doesn’t force these images into your brain with uninspired gore or violence, as he instead exposes us to primal terrors we would never have imagined unless someone asked. If the threat is alien, then the danger must be equally alien to us, our experiences or understanding.
As is evident by the high praise, there’s plenty to be said about Peele’s masterful execution. It’s clear that his mind is operating on a higher level than what we’re typically used to, and that has served him incredibly well in the past. While it definitely continues to serve him well, it also puts Nope’s thematic elements into some unintelligible realms. To be clear, Peele isn’t just throwing ideas on the screen, as there is certainly specific meaning and artistic intention behind the basic narrative. Across various layers, Nope has things to say about nature, mythology, spectacle, and filmmaking in general. When you put the pieces together it’s possible to discern the meaning, but (unlike Get Out) Nope requires specific knowledge to do so. Peele doesn’t make it easy for the average viewing to understand what the point is, which can be a problem for many just wanting a good, fun, scary ride.
Additionally, those totally on board for the film’s bizarre thematic style may be dissatisfied by how bluntly the metaphors are displayed in the climatic minutes. Granted, Peele’s brilliant imagination is still firing on all cylinders, but some characters suddenly take dramatic turns in order for the resolution to happen, despite the fact everyone had been fairly logical up to this point. This isn’t usually a problem when the stakes increase, but these massive shifts occur after the heroes have basically achieved what they set out to achieve. Specifically, there was no practical reason for the mission to continue, so the explosive finish does feel a little too engineered. Depending on how forgiving the viewer is, will determine whether or not the final act makes or breaks the entire experience.
Nope won’t be for everyone and it has already sparked intense debate among those who’ve seen it. However, this is Peele’s whole game, as he obviously wants his work to open people’s minds to cinematic and cerebral discussions. This may not be the film that most viewers were expecting, but if we ever get to a point where we know what to expect from Jordan Peele, he clearly isn’t doing his job.
Best way to watch it: With the doors and windows securely locked.