Even if Nope has a bigger budget and harder to decipher plot than Jordan Peele’s previous two films, it will still have you on the edge of your seat at attention scratching your head wondering what you missed. As I sit to write this review, I’m gazing into the clouds thinking to myself, could there really be life moving through the sky, waiting to devour us one by one? Nope.
“Nope” is just as much a product of the current cultural climate as any of his other films. This one is especially true in the sense that Peele doesn’t blatantly throw race and reckoning square in our faces but he takes time at the very beginning to recite the history of the moving image in its 150-year entirety, finding both the humor and exploitative nature of the entertainment industry, keeping its inhabitants rich for decades. Combining the best elements of historic horror with neo-Westerns, this Peele brand of humor may seem strange. Even Nope’s location, set in a forgotten Californian desert valley of Agua Dulce is hard to believe. After two great hits, he’s earned the right to indulge and restrain, not giving us too much but adding elements throughout the film to get your brain churning. We all are waiting for the big reveal, the big public display that is our lives.
Waiting is a great way to describe the story of OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald “Em” Haywood (Keke Palmer), a pair of siblings who train horses for Hollywood movies and commercials. The family horse ranch has seen better days, especially after the sudden death of their father (Keith David) under mysterious circumstances of fallen debris from the sky. The brother and sister make ends meet selling horses to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child actor turned side-show carnival-owner running a neighboring Western-themed amusement park.
Things go bad quickly when OJ discovers an unidentified flying object moving through the clouds above his farm. The skies give the director a great playground to hide an alien. The cinematography team do such a wonderful job with the characters multiple skin hues that the overhead scenes seem magical. Those swift yet angelic movements are high crowd expectations that play out well for the visual brilliance of watching an extraterrestrial dance and descends upon farm land in the hopes of good chow. With cinematographer Hoyte von Hoytema capturing the film’s sprawling landscapes, and composer Michael Abels’ ominous score picking up the rest; the story revolves around OJ and Em’s plan to capture the creature on film.
True to the film’s contemporary Western landscape, OJ is a true Black cowboy, playing the quiet, more reserved sibling who witnessed his father’s mysterious death firsthand. His character creates a nice contrast to his scene-stealing sister Em who comes up with the fame-motivated idea to capture the UFO. Other characters include a heartbroken techie (Brandon Perea) and an enigmatic cinematographer (Michael Wincott), who become engulfed in the mayhem. Em is the optimist of the two, believing they can capture the “Oprah shot,’ and reap the rewards of fame and fortune. It’s the first time Peele has framed a plot story based on monetary gains within a black family.
This certainly isn’t the first time Peele has explored childhood trauma or historical relevance through the lens of a horror film, but when we live in an age when audiences are ok with sequel after sequel, Peele’s ability to create a body of work about right now is a part of his genius.
Then there’s the storyline that includes a monkey.
THE MONKEY INCIDENT
Ricky “Jupe” Park’s amusement park memorabilia includes eerie remnants from his experience on Gordy’s Home, a fictional sitcom in the 1990s with its starring character, a trained chimpanzee named Gordy, adopted by a suburban family. Told in flashbacks, a horrific attack killed the show and several of the shows family members. During a birthday episode, a bunch of balloons floated up into the studio’s rafters and popped, causing Gordy to snap; savagely killing several of his castmates. Jupe, at the age of 10, hid under a table witnessing the entire ordeal.
Back in present day, Jupe reveals to OJ and Em that his Gordy’s Home keepsakes are in a hidden room behind his desk, which he charges park patrons extra to experience. He explains how his new found success was largely built upon the media coverage surrounding the massacre, clueing the Haywoods, and the audience, just how desensitized Jupe has become to ‘Jupiter’s Claim’ career being born from a tragedy that ended in death.
I won’t give any spoilers but this third installment of what we hope will be a long career, is worth its budget; tingling the brain in all the right places with refreshing portrayals, dreaming photography and jaw-dropping storytelling.
“Nope” is in theaters now.