Nope ★★★★

Jordan Peele makes his Signs, his Close Encounters, his Tremors, and his Jaws all at once. Yet to couch Nope in terms of other directors really does the film a disservice. Although considering the Akira bike slide is in this, maybe Peele wouldn’t mind. 

A new-frontier horror-adventure where cameras - not guns - do the shooting, Nope evoked a rollercoaster of reactions across its runtime. Intrigued by the spooked-horse oddness and uncanny slow-burn of the first act; intrigued by the naturalistic brother-sister chemistry between a restrained guarded Daniel Kaluuya and a boisterous Keke Palmer as they set out to capture a money shot of the unknown. Riveted by the midmovie’s wild reveals and arresting sequences that had my inner Lovecraftian and sci-fi fans squealing with delight. Left conflicted about a final act that felt underwrought in its use of certain characters; underwhelmed by the release of eerie intensity in favor of neo-cowboy caper, yet still thrilled by the craft, visuals, and pay-offs of that finale. 

At its best, this might’ve been tailor-made for my tastes. Freed from the confines of suburban homes, Peele’s set-pieces blossom in scale without ever losing their sly camerawork and keen construction. The sweeping California sky is as menacing here as Amity Island’s coast or Perfection’s desert, and what lurks above is a marvel of unearthly simplicity and unnatural terror. At the film’s apex of unknown and suspense, I was edge-of-seat rapt, my Jurassic Park nostalgia buzzing, enthralled by the nightmarishly creative spectacle. 

But unfortunately the rest of the film after that peak never again comes close to those heights. At its weakest, Nope can be awkward, abrupt, and anticlimactic. A subplot related to Steven Yuen’s gaudy themepark owner Jupe and his CGI chimp flashbacks crystallizes as a crucial plot lynchpin, yet that whole facet of the story comes across as jarringly placed and under-explained, as if clearer context had been cut. Similarly, the arrival of Michael Wincott may work as a great gravely Jaws analog, but his motivations quickly become hazy and confusing. Themes of exploiting tragedy, trauma, and life’s bedlam for personal success, of feeding a hunger for spectacle, seemed obvious in hindsight but felt lost amid puzzling plot choices while watching. Like Get Out, like Us, I can already tell Nope is going to benefit from foresight. 

And also like Get Out and Us, Nope is tremendous genre-blurring entertainment, in spite of those aforementioned blemishes and frustrations. This is just so ambitiously and singularly Peele in both its impressive craftsmanship and narrative weaknesses. I foresee my appreciation only going up the more I mull.

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