Nope Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott
Nope Director: Jordan Peele
Nope Stars: 3.5/5
In terms of Hollywood's penchant for making spectacle films, there are always the classics such as Steven Spielberg's E.T or Jaws that come to mind. These films managed to make the audience wholly invested in their worlds in a sensory manner that seems to be second to none. With Nope, Jordan Peele tries to build something in a similar space as he takes cues from multiple films such as M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs among others to present a thriller that explores various dimensions of the alien experience and the human reaction to it.
After making films such as Get Out and Us, Peele's new film continues to push in the same direction as it keeps moving the narrative into ambitious detours that don't always pay off. Especially in terms of Nope, there are times when you feel the director takes on a tad too much to make the sci-fi thriller stand out with its nuanced approach as it focuses on the Haywood siblings. Luckily for Jordan, he gets to experiment with Nope and its genre-bending ride on the shoulders of a great cast as Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer both bring the A game.
Nope takes us to Souther California's Agua Dulce, home to Otis Haywood Jr. aka O.J. (Kaluuya) and his father (Keith David) who handle their stable of mares and stallions while running Haywood Hollywood Horses, the oldest Black-owned horse training service in the industry. The film opens with an O.J's father dying under mysterious circumstances. Taking on the responsibility of the business after him, O.J. reunites with his estranged sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), or Em, to run the business they have inherited. While O.J. is a quiet wrangler, Em is a ball of infectious energy and the siblings aptly represent the two sides of California.
The siblings' fractured relationship isn't getting any better as they run the family business with different approaches with Em merely considering it as her "side gig." Amid trying to make a decision over taking the payout and selling their horses to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a theme park owner in the vicinity, O. J. begins to get a sense of something unnatural about a patch of cloud that hasn't moved for weeks as strange incidents begin to take place on his ranch. With O.J and Em trying to figure out what unknown threat lies ahead for them, they are also ready to face it head-on and possibly even make money out of it.
In Peele's Nope, there's a clear message that runs through about the idea that as humans, we are wired to exploit the things that are alien to us and in particular when it comes to places such as the business of Hollywood, it's easier to make money of out of your misery and pain than to look inwards and it holds true in the story of Ricky Park (Yeun) whose traumatic memory as a child star becomes a venture of memorabilia. As for the Hayword siblings, it's about creating their own legacy after all they are the descendants of the unnamed Black jockey in Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 The Race Horse, the first film ever made.
Nope interestingly inserts cutbacks from Ricky's mortifying first-hand experience as a child star on a show that featured a chimp who runs amok during a shoot causing an unimaginably scary moment on stage. The chimp's action, the UFO-shaped object hovering over the ranch and the human need to capitalise on everything, form an allegory that has multiple layers to it and one may conclude that Peele wants us to figure out what our takeaway is from this film. Whether it's O.J's understanding of not looking your enemy in the eye amid a world divided world of twisted race relations or the fact that there's a lesson on the environmental doom that we are causing also partly present somewhere.
Peele presents a slow-burner with Nope that takes its own time in the first half to build the tension and the suspense. To match Jordan's twisted ideas that play around with our psyche all through the film, there is a brilliant vision offered by cinematographer Hoyte von Hoytema who makes the film worth a watch on an IMAX screen as each frame promises an immersive experience that is further enhanced by the eerie score set by Michael Abels.
Kaluuya and Peele may just be the new director-actor combination that could make Hollywood history. Daniel manages to slip into the character of O.J. with such finesse that despite having a limited dialogue, the actor masterfully conveys his character's place in the world with his body language and his silent glances. Kaluuya's talent of simply saying "Nope" in one of the most crucial scenes is enough to convince you why the film is aptly titled. Keke Palmer as Em is the heart of this film. She balances with ease the energetic vibe and the emotional side of Em. Adding a bit of comic relief to the tense film is also Brando Parea as Angel, a heartbroken technical assistant from an electronic store who gets sucked into the alien-spotting jou
ey with the Haywood siblings. Steven Yeun and Michael Wincott also deliver effective performances.
Nope doesn't necessarily outdo Jordan Peele's other works but it's still a film that is visually stunning and ambitious with its philosophical approach. It also grounds itself emotionally with a sibling story that is enhanced due to Kaluuya and Palmer's performances.