A mediocre "de-make" of Signs (2002) or Close Encounters (1977), with the optimism and religious faith removed, replaced by trauma, hatred of God, and Beyoncé-level racial sniping that has little higher moral or message.

Despite that, this may be Jordan Peele's best film so far because in these desperate days, subpar Signs - now with black people - is still underneath a classic man-versus-monster tale to entertain, and about half of this bloated 2hr 10 minute story is tested Jaws/Tremors style fun, now with horse-eating-bed-sheet aliens.

The action isn't great, Nolan's former cinematographer makes it look like well, Christopher Nolan action, but the scary bits are tense, and the gang of characters at least try and proactively solve the problem, rather than just shooting themselves in the head.

If you're just looking for an excuse to go to the movies, Nope will kill time. An old (white) grandma said as we were leaving "that really got the heart going", so the studio can put that on the poster.

It’s hard to be more enthused about Nope because the alien adventure is bloated by so much padding and Jordan Peele misery/human disconnection. The film takes an age to get going, showing two millennial dropout characters trash their father’s Hollywood ranch business so they can play vinyl records, smoke "great weed", and chat about Oprah, and there's a long and depressing subplot with Stephen Yeun and a CG chimp that could be completely cut without losing much.

A Hollywood character says in this he "makes one movie for them, and one for me" and Peele’s trying to do both with this, begrudgingly making the crowd-pleaser alien bits here "for them" (us and the studio) when he’d probably rather be making more indie Get Out/Us nihilistic weirdness with suffering black people.

The Peele-centric parts clash awkwardly with the alien action, and weigh down a blockbuster. It keeps slippin' into darkness, such as plenty of disturbing, ultra-violence - watching this fake chimp tear to shreds a bunch of people before its brains get blown across the lens (I’m starting to feel sorry for chimps in movies - they’re too human for modern artists). Or watching terrified, screaming victims being digested by the alien, which was extremely uncomfortable - Spielberg’s War of the Worlds trauma without the hope or value of suffering.

The film also wants to awkwardly make political points about the mainstream media exploiting tragedy or something. The main character is called "OJ", which made my eyes roll (Peele’s references seem to putter out in the 90s). And yet he perpetuates the exploitation with the shocking, gratuitous moments mentioned above – classic Peele hypocrisy. At one point a paparazzi photographer from "TMZ" shows up randomly (in a Daft Punk costume, driving an e-bike for some reason). He dies because paparazzi = bad, and yet the TMZ name drop is surely product placement, so what gives?

The racial point (if any), which he’s contractually obliged to put in as a "race hustler" (to use Armond White’s judgement of Peele), is so scattered and timid that I couldn’t make any sense of it on one viewing. The movie inexplicably makes a huge deal of pointing out that the jockey from one of the first ever films was a black guy. Peele’s angry quest for recognition undoes the fact that I didn't care or even consider that man’s skin colour until seeing this movie – that jockey was just a cool guy on a horse in a pioneering old movie, his colour erased by the magical power of cinema where there can be (if we want it) no black or white, no Jew or Gentile. But not with Peele. This film has now taught me that jockey was just another forgotten victim, erased by the history books. Hopefully he’d like his new legacy.

Of course, what any of this has to do with alien battles and Hollywood horse wranglers is a good question. It just feels like Peele is weaving in his angry stuff and racial elements, like Beyoncé, because they’re on-trend (though not for long, I think Black Panther 2 will be the end of this "BLM" phase).

And bringing up religion here is relevant as Peele’s film isn’t benign in that regard. It starts with a quote from the Old Testament prophets (like his last film), throwing down the gauntlet again but it’s more provocative here as these alien encounter films are usually about man’s spiritual evolution. Signs was overt about it, and Close Encounters was equally inspired by The Ten Commandments (movie) and man’s search for the meaning of life.

This is their grim post-Obama era successor.

The Bible quote Peele uses is:

"I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle."

The film naturally doesn’t explain that’s a quote from God giving a warning to the ancient city of Nineveh, where greed and sin and human exploitation abounded (as shown in the tiny book of Nahum, where the quote comes from). Nor does it mention God actually spared the city of Nineveh because, despite not being too religious, its smart leaders repented.

Rather, I suspect in Peele’s hands the intention is rather to make God out as the wrathful bad guy, and the vicious UFO that lives in an unmoving cloud and kills without rhyme or reason represents Peele’s angsty understanding of God as a destructive sky meanie (a "bad miracle" they call it).

The link between the fearsome alien and Peele’s view of God seems too obvious in the first scene when the Entity (which looks rather like an anus) burps out the remains of its latest victims, killing a man with a coin. And naturally the camera makes sure we get a good long look at "In God We Trust" on the side.

It also seems from interviews Peele is trying to castigate God and/or America for allowing Covid:

"Writer-director Jordan Peele was partly inspired to write Nope by the COVID-19 lockdowns and the "endless cycle of grim, inescapable tragedy"

So with Covid (according to him) God attacked our modern sinful "Nineveh", killing like a greedy animal, therefore God must be destroyed so we can live in utopia land. The victims must fight back against the supreme Authority, so let’s hold the Almighty to account with our rainbow coloured inflatable dummies, and build a 24/7 surveillance system instead as the characters do here.

Whether you care about this anti-God stuff is arguably less important than the fact it makes for a depressing alien encounter picture.

The critic from the New York Times (who adored this of course) explains the film’s depressing attitude well:

"While this movie can fairly be described as Spielbergian, it turns on an emphatic and explicit debunking of Spielberg's most characteristic visual trope: the awe-struck upward gaze."

How hostile the word "debunking" sounds there!

No more cinematic awe for you, no encounter with the beyond and the limits of possibility, the miraculous. That’s old hat. Let’s stick to mundanity and people in a cycle of trauma and reaction instead.

The aliens in Signs were nasty creatures too, but they were clearly meant to be demonic (the famous "grey" alien bears a very strong resemblance to the sketches of Aleister Crowley) and they unintentionally led Mel Gibson to reawaken his Christian faith and fatherly blessings.

Signs was Shyamalan's answer to the trauma of 9/11. And this is Peele's "answer" to the trauma of Covid, but it has a very different conclusion. Shyamalan and Mel told us not to focus on the trauma but to regain what was lost. Peele takes the approach of Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman instead: God is the destroying enemy and we gotta get rid.

In the end (minor spoilers) we see a shot of a black cowboy on a horse, having slain the divine, as if to say the Old West is secularised and now ours. I have no idea how the millions if not billions of Christian black people would think about that, but enjoy the ashes.

Peele’s childish thumb-biting and unfocused racial padding here doesn’t totally ruin that grandma’s man-versus-alien plot, and the film has qualities. I particularly enjoyed Brandon Perea as the comedic store employee – a man who actually wants to see these aliens and feel awe. And it was nice hearing Michael Wincott's (Alien Resurrection) growl again. But sadly they can’t compensate for the British Daniel Kaluuya. An Englishman just cannot play an American cowboy! It’s ridiculous, like getting Denzel Washington to play a Morris Dancer. Kaluuya doesn’t seem to want to be here anyway, with a dour, fixed expression throughout that drains the will to watch. Meanwhile Peele (whose mother is white) fetishizes his skin yet again, making shots where only Kaluuya’s white eyes stand out. Without a Creator, we are just biology.

It is clever of Peele to start pivoting into the more effective mainstream entertainment here, as his "black horror" thing is running out of trauma. I could see him being hired to direct Jurassic Park 7 at this rate, with this newfound ability to imitate JJ Abrams sucking up the last milkshake of Spielberg’s legacy, naturally minus the faith and family. Even a desaturated copy of a copy - post Shyamalan - is something.

But until he can break out of negativity and resentment - the NOPE that imprisons the soul - Peele remains an earthbound slave.

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