Nope ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.


It seems that whenever we're blessed with a new Jordan Peele picture, the starting point is on the topic of sub-genre. How his films operate usually stem from the type of experience the audience is expecting, and he often weaponizes our own sense of film-literacy. He's eager to fool us, but he wants the thrill to remain classical. Get Out exploded with one wickedly sharp turn after another, showcasing a nightmare narrative of racial politics and body commodification, while US lured its audience into a twilight zone of mirrors and doubles. If we look from the outside in, Nope seemed to be a Spielberg-ian drive-in escape in the same way that Get Out embraced the structure of The Stepford Wives, or US soaked up the nightmarish reality of Funny Games.

But Nope gives us something different - an examination of the frontier. The borders between the homestead and the outside world, the ranch vs. the wilderness, the expanse of space vs. the sole unmoving cloud in the distance. The film industry has and always will be territorial, and The Haywood lineage is being put out to pasture. In an act of reclamation, our protagonists OJ and Emerald are seeking a new space for their legacy.

Little do they know that the opportunity will arrive in the form of an angry UFO saucer creature that consumes horses and humans slowly and painfully inside its digestive system, their screams heard for hours as they echo within the canyons. Always on the hunt, the alien moves through the clouds for cover, but it is eager to be seen. The Haywood family learns to disregard its spectacle, and to decide when and where to gaze upon its shape. The film develops a terrifying vocabulary of sci-fi and horror tropes once every secret is revealed, but it also loses the edges on its sense of imagination.

The final third isn't quite as evocative as the build-up, which features three of the scariest sequences in recent Hollywood memory. One is an extended flashback of animal exploitation and traumatic catharsis, with a chimpanzee and a shoe pointing towards the stars and a tablecloth blocking a young actor's sightline. Another is a fake-out alien encounter that is just as much a prank on the audience as it is on OJ. It sent chills down my spine, and the crowd I saw Nope with went crazy for it. Peele knows he could play the hits and the movie still would work. And when he doesn't play around and goes for the jugular, with the example of a claustrophobic feeding session for our alien friend, it's fucking petrifying. Nope, at its best, is another triumphant showcase for Jordan Peele's vivid imagery and emotional texture.

A bad miracle of a movie.

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