Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: The residents of a lonely gulch in inland California bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery.
Review: A fan on Twitter recently called Jordan Peele the greatest horror director of all time, to which Peele responded “– love your enthusiasm but, I will not tolerate any John Carpenter slander!!” It’s great to see Peele giving credit where it’s deserved (The Thing is the greatest horror movie of all time, and I’ll take on anyone who says different) but it just goes to show how much of an impact Jordan Peele has made in his career thus far as a horror writer, director and producer. Get Out took the genre by storm, Us was divisive but most fans and critics gave it positive feedback, Candyman (which he did not direct but co-wrote) was solid as reboots go and now we have the horror movie named after the response most people of colour have when faced with creepy scenarios, Nope.
Of all Peele’s work thus far Nope is probably his most cinematic. By that I mean it’s one of those movies best enjoyed on the largest screen you can find. Shot with IMAX cameras, Peele’s take on sci-fi horror, in this case UFOs (I’m with the cast on this one as I’ll never call them Unidentified Aerial Phenomena or UAPs) set against a backdrop of wide open plains and a horse training farm in the middle of nowhere, makes every scene feel larger than life. The cinematography screams summer blockbuster more than any other horror movie I can think of with the exception of one. As a matter of fact, it’s the one movie I couldn’t help but think of, once the UFO was revealed in all its chilling glory and that was the movie that created the summer blockbuster, Jaws.
It’s hard to talk about Nope without getting into spoilers, but I promise to keep them mild. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Black Panther) plays O.J. Haywood (don’t worry, they don’t overdo it with the jokes about his name), a quiet, almost shy man who rarely makes eye contact when he’s talking to someone. After his father Otis (played by the legendary Keith David) dies he takes up the burdensome responsibly of keeping their horse farm from going under. This particular farm has deep roots within the Hollywood community as the oldest horse training farm as well as the fact it’s owned and managed by a black family.
His sister Emerald (Keke Palmer of Scream Queens, Scream: Resurrection) is of little help as she spends her days jumping from one dream to the next but never really settling on anything in particular. And O.J. has been forced to sell most of their stable to a neighbouring theme park run by an ex-child star with a traumatic past named Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yuen of Walking Dead fame). Bad goes to worse when O.J. suspects that there is something otherworldly hunting on their land. With a plan to capture the alien entity on film, they set up cameras with the help of local techie Angel (Brandon Perea) but as more is revealed about the UFO the trio quickly realise they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
So like I mentioned before, Nope plays out a lot like Jaws with O.J. being a stand in for Roy Scheider’s Brody, Angel could be compared to Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper and Michael Wincott who most will recognize as the villain from The Crow, as this film’s version of Quint who was played by Robert Shaw. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling Nope a copy of Jaws or anything, but I would be lying if I said the horror fan in me didn’t see the similarities in the two films on a cinematic level.
That said, the story here is less about corporate and political greed and more about legacy and past traumas. The Haywoods proudly tell the story of how their great great great grandfather was technically the first actor on film (he’s the black jockey riding the horse in the first moving image ever played) but like so many black actors, directors and artists in the industry, he’s been forgotten due to prejudice and time. Their goal to capture the UFO on camera is not just about financial gain but also to cement their place in history. As for past traumas, we see how their different perspectives on their childhoods have shaped them as adults, which also goes for Steven Yuen’s character Jupe. All this is to say Nope, like any of Jordan Peele’s other movies, has more to offer than just what is on the surface. Through Wincott’s character we get a look at how far an artist will go for his art and the downside of reaching the “top of the mountain”. Smarter minds than me may see more than I did but that’s what I took away from the movie, thematically at least.
That said I find it a bit of a stretch calling this one a horror movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of chilling moments to be found here and Peele knows how to shoot a scene to make the hair raise on the back of your neck (I’m talking about that barn scene of course). And the first half of this movie, as well as a couple moments in the middle act, will have audiences on edge. But as a whole, there’s just not enough here for me to think of this as a horror movie. I would rate it more of a sci-fi thriller, granted one with a few horrific elements at play here and there.
Then there’s the side-plot of Jupiter/Jupe’s backstory. The whole thing is built up in a way that you THINK is going to have a huge payoff later on but it never really happens. My guess is either more was left on the cutting room floor due to time, or maybe it was just Peele’s way of exploring how past trauma affects us. “You can’t tame a predator” O.J. says at one point, and maybe the whole point of Jupiter’s journey was to bring that home. Still, it all felt anticlimactic and a bit of a letdown.
So where do I stand on Nope? Well, simply put, I enjoyed it for what it was—a small cast of characters set against a larger than life tale. The scenes with the UFO were visually spectacular and the way this film was scored enhanced these moments wonderfully. While overly long in my humble opinion, I never lost interest due to the engaging characters and their natural chemistry on screen as well as the mystery of it all held my attention. But while Nope is creepy, it’s in no way scary (then again, the only alien I ever found terrifying was The Thing) and once we knew what we were dealing with, most of the tension dissipated. I think critics will love this and Jordan Peele fans will love it but horror fans will find it divisive. Wherever you land though it’s hard not to applaud Nope for taking a well-worn trope and doing something decidedly refreshing and original with it.
Score: 7 out of 10
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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You can check out my video review below:
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