***While this review doesn’t really spoil any major plot details that don’t take place within the first 10 minutes or so, you may want to wait until post viewing if you wish to go in completely clean***
In Jordan Peele’s Nope, it’s easier for the central characters to monetize a tragedy rather than deal with it. That’s one theme of many in the filmmaker’s third feature which blends more sci-fi with its horror than Get Out or Us. Another theme is that some creatures simply can’t be tamed. Peele too is in kitchen sink mode – willing to throw lots of ideas at the screen and see what sticks. This allows for some incredible sequences and the technical aspects are the most impressive of his filmography (particularly the sound work). I’d also, at least for now, rank it behind those aforementioned pictures. That’s with a caveat as both Get Out and Us grew in my estimation on rewatches.
There’s alien activities happening beyond one character being a tech support worker who actually provides meaningful tech support. OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) helps his father (Keith David) run a ranch that provides horses for Hollywood productions. The patriarch meets a sudden end when a coin falls from the sky and makes deadly impact. Six months later, OJ’s spirited little sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) is helping her brother with the now struggling family business. The siblings soon discover items of an unidentified nature are hovering in the expansive California stratosphere.
They eventually enlist aforementioned electronics clerk Angel (Brandon Perea) and well-known cinematographer and wonderfully named Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) to capture the UFOs. Not in the sense of capturing or killing, but capturing footage for the world to see. The motive seems less about revenge for what killed Dad and more about getting something on camera that will bring fame and fortune. Or, as Emerald describes it, the Oprah shot. YOU get the definitive proof of aliens! And YOU get the definitive proof of aliens!!
Not far from the ranch is a Western theme park (a triumph of production design) run by former child star Jupe Park (Steven Yeun). An incident from his second sitcom Gordy’s Home in the late 1990s about a domesticated monkey gives us a creepy prologue and a later sequence that is terrifying. Does it fit with the rest of Nope? One could argue it doesn’t. Yet Jupe’s unwillingness to deal with what occurred is similar to OJ and Emerald’s own actions.
This is a gorgeous looking movie made for IMAX. Nope excels at presenting a wholly unique setting in a great wide open space. It may only be a few miles from Hollywood and it may be steeped in niche Hollywood history, but it feels much farther away. Kaluuya and Palmer both give first-rate performances as brother and sister of far different demeanors. I would describe the characters as less compelling than some from Peele’s previous works.
Whether from a simian scare or otherworldly interventions, there are thrilling moments in Nope. There’s also stretches where the electricity goes out and not just literally. Unpacking various concepts presented may be enriched on subsequent viewings. On first watch, I found myself often wowed by the behind the camera beauty of it all if not always by the plot mechanisms.
*** (out of four)