Nope ★★★

Jordan Peele truly did burst onto the cinema scene with Get Out, making the difficult jump from television to film all the more arduous by going from sketch comedy to racially charged and social satirical horror, and it’s in a wider sense perfectly understandable if that success gave him a confidence in his own directorial abilities. That confidence was tested with his follow up feature Us, which was magnitudes more thematically rounded and stylistically esoteric than his first feature and struggled to cope with the weight of such complexity, and his confidence is again tested with Nope. On flagrant display again is Peele’s inability to tie thematic expressions of central concepts together, failing in crafting a congruous visual language, a provocative script, or a set of sequences that tie his elucidations of imagery together under the banner of a strong directorial voice. Like Us there’s a solid premise established in the first act that subsequently dissolves beneath the waves of extraneous detail and a largesse of coding that stray so far from the experiences and perspectives of the central characters that one begins to lose all connection to them, making the climactic confrontation with the film’s antagonist weightless and lacking in direction.

What saves it as a viewing experience is the confidence that underpins it all though, and although Peele is driving the film off a cliff at points he’s always at least driving it. Whether it’s a richly textured and subtly lit shot highlighting the breadth and leering negative space of the film’s central location or a compressed and cliched angle that fails to deliver on the visual spectacle that its action promises there’s an intent behind it, but deciphering that intent will prove to be an issue. Some will certainly be dazzled by the sheer size of the film, even if it does fail to fill out the silhouette the first act casts, and while the effect work as an individual element isn’t exactly brilliant save for a few of the smaller scope practical effects it is always utilised as a supporting tool of the cinematography, save for one repeated scene where it becomes a focal point. The cinematography is also quite good for the most part, making some serious missteps in the final act but often playing with notions of stillness and intentional mis-framing based on the contours of the landscape in a way that renders a few of the film’s shock reveals actually shocking.

It would be wrong to doubt Peele’s abilities as a horror film maker, at least as it relates to his technical acumen, but when it comes to his abilities to use those talents to create thematic resonance it’s hard to see it as anything other than unrealised potential here. Issues with the script dog the otherwise brilliant performances, with Daniel Kaluuya and Michael Wincott snuggling nicely into their tightly written and comparatively ponderous niches while Steven Yuen and particularly Keke Palmer struggle to deliver the earthy side of the cast of characters with their respective roles. The humour is the most prominent example of such failures; always purposely implemented in punchy beats in between otherwise severe material and yet always implemented to the detriment of the material around it. Whatever story Peele is trying to tell or whatever concept he’s trying to communicate doesn’t cut through these moments, and the ending particularly is very confused as it relates to the conceptual dynamics present earlier in the film. For a film so centred on horses it never cares much about the horses, nor about the people around them, and for a film about an unknown oppositional force to give so little thought as to the people being opposed will inevitably leave one wondering what the relationship between those people and that force is. Jaws comparisons will abound, and one should note the approach that Spielberg and Peele take to the material conditions and existence of their characters as it relates to their foes. Despite all of its miscues Nope does have enough going for it in regards to intrigue and apprehension to entice viewers, even if it doesn’t deliver a satisfying finale for those tonal notes.

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