Expectations were sky high for Jordan Peele’s third feature, particularly as both Get Out and Us are fantastic, layered horror films. 2019’s Us feels like forever ago at this point, but Nope makes sure audiences will not leave without knowing Peele’s name. The marketing team has actually done an excellent job at revealing just enough beforehand so that the real surprises are saved for the theatrical experience. Remember those flailing inflatable men from all the standees? They are a vital ingredient in the final product, too. Genuinely chilling imagery, stunning sound design, exclamation mark twists, and a lovable brother/sister relationship between Daniel Kaluuya’s OJ & Keke Palmer’s Emerald—if that still doesn’t sound appealing enough, no less than three stand-out horror sequences assault the senses with nightmarish staying power. Peele crafts a dazzling, scary blockbuster blending Jaws and Twister, while Nope carves out a specialty genre niche of its very own in the process.
Before the credits even begin, a bloody monkey wanders around in the aftermath of a wrecked television studio, staring into the camera as if he hasn’t just done some serious damage. This chilling moment may cause nervous laughter (it certainly did at my screening), but beyond the surface-level impact, a mysterious, gripping throughline is already being constructed. Only time will tell how it locks into the broader picture… On the Haywood estate, patriarch Otis (Keith David, Requiem for a Dream, Cloud Atlas) has his own horse training business that is thriving thanks to various Hollywood deals. The first of these is hilariously said to be for 2001’s The Scorpion King before they “decided to go with camels!” Siblings OJ (Kaluuya) and Emerald (Palmer) are forced to take over the family company when sky-falling shrapnel unexpectedly results in Otis’s untimely demise.
Distant relatives of the first black man to ever be recorded on a horse and the first ever “motion pictures,” the Haywoods have an established reputation that simply must be upheld. Otis is notorious for changing the industry at large. On set, OJ fills in for his late father to mixed results, mainly as Emerald is distracted by trying to sell herself to the point that she neglects caring for their show horse, Lucky. The Haywoods are promptly booted from the project. Falling on hard times, OJ has been forced to sell off many of Otis Sr.’s horses to keep food on the table, whilst Emerald was absent for months. The latest sale sees Lucky being pawned off to amusement park tycoon Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yuen, The Walking Dead, Minari), of whom Emerald is semi-obsessed. Park promises to involve Lucky in events at his western-themed amusement park, Jupiter’s Claim. Park also happens to be a former child actor from an obscure TV show abruptly cancelled after a monkey massacre, and its subsequent cover-up.
At this point, one would be forgiven for not having the slightest idea of how Nope will connect to aliens or a science-fiction element. Certainly, Peele has a blast poking fun at iconography of little green men, and everything we think we know about extraterrestrials. Beyond an enticing debris-showering sequence at the beginning, Nope takes its time returning to the world of the strange and unusual. By introducing a cacophony of intriguing characters in the first act, Peele’s script leaves ample room for the boisterous shock and awe of act two. When his horse Ghost runs away, OJ sees quite clearly a UFO in the sky. He is so convinced, in fact, that OJ insists they install more video cameras around the farm to capture the action. Shaky, unreliable ancient security-cam footage simply isn’t going to cut it. Emerald throws herself into the scenario with conviction—the only way to prove alien existence is to capture “the Oprah shot” of all UFO footage. A minor plan in place, the duo reels in Angel (Brandon Perea), a quirky Tech Team worker and alien-theory obsessive. Will OJ and Emerald be able to capture “the Oprah shot” to fame and glory?
Nope thrives on its mystery-box format, and never overexplains a single moment of its curiosities. I personally hate when television or films beat the audience over the head with their grander ideas and themes; Peele is thankfully never guilty of this despite a runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours. Massive, crowd-pleasing spectacle accompanies a rich script brimming with spark and meta sharpness. Sounds that bore into one’s core leave a nasty mark, but in the end I walked away with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s stunning visuals seared into my brain. Whether it be gallons of bloody rain dripping down a house, the gory outstretched paw of a distressed monkey, or the dazzle of signature attraction “The Star Lasso Experience,” Peele is sure to make every second count.
As always, symbology and foreshadowing is slathered on in jest, meaning repeat viewings will only nurture further goodwill and discussion. An ensemble cast steal the show—Palmer and Kaluuya in particular are magnificent. Emerald’s spunky drive for survival and OJ’s earnest commitment to proving himself right make them fascinating characters to watch. Palmer’s screams and Kaluuya’s doe-eyed, brazen attitude compliment their characters in ease. Other favorites this time around are seasoned cinematographer Antler Holst (Michael Wincott), committed to fulfilling the legacy of the “Oprah shot,” and Angel, in-too-deep yet game for any obstacle thrown their way.
I have no doubt it may be a controversial statement, but personally, I think Nope may be my favorite of Jordan Peele’s three horror films and counting. I also think it is easily his scariest. A eye-opening barn encounter and aforementioned monkey attack were two of the most chilling segments, but a third that constitutes a spoiler if revealed genuinely freaked me out. An epic finale presents itself as a non-stop action thrill ride, a stark contrast to the slower build of Nope’s opening. Impressively, as the layers give way to the film’s true nature, Nope only gets better as its dark comedy gives way to sinister otherworldly terror. As far as I am concerned, Nope is 2022’s fourth genuinely amazing horror film, after Scream, X, and The Black Phone laid the groundwork. I will never hear “Purple People Eater” the same ever again!
Nope beams the audience up into theaters everywhere on Friday, July 22nd.