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Nope - 2022 - Directed by Jordan Peele - Horror, Sci-Fi - R - 2h 10m
Spoiler Warning: If you’re particular about spoilers, definitely check out the film before reading.
Only a handful of contemporary directors can generate buzz by virtue of their name alone. Jordan Peele is one of them. Get Out and Us created an appetite for social-issue horror by combining crowd-pleasing entertainment with thought-provoking allegories. Nope continues this tradition, but at a more methodical pace. The film has a lot on its mind and is not afraid to slowly sort it all out.
Taking a page from the Jaws playbook, Nope keeps the primary threat—a mysterious UFO—off-camera for the majority of the film, save for a few quick glimpses as it darts through the clouds. You feel more of its presence through power outages, frightened horses, and small objects falling from the sky. Only in the climatic encounter do you see the threat in its full glory—a sublime, otherworldly creature that defies human comprehension. These are the final moments where the film’s slow build pays off.
With this more measured approach, Peele reserves a large chunk of time laying down the groundwork for the themes he wants to explore—and there are a lot of them. Sometimes they directly connect to the UFO, sometimes they run in parallel. In the biggest subplot, a chimpanzee on the set of a ‘90s sitcom snaps after a balloon unexpectedly pops, leaving a bloody massacre in his wake. Pieces of this story are sporadically woven into the film, with additional context added each time we return to it. The connection to the UFO is loose in terms of plot, but thematically, there is a parallel that illuminates what Peele is trying to say. Part of the fun is connecting the dots on your own, so I’ll stop short of spelling it out. Half suspense and half thematic puzzle box, Peele will deliver the spectacle you want, but first he wants you to reflect on it.
Not everyone will have the patience for this, and the lack of strong emotional connections to the characters doesn’t help. Guiding us through this journey are OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), two siblings struggling to make ends meet after the untimely death of their father. While the sibling dynamic works well enough, with Palmer and Kaluuya playing opposites of one another—Palmer being the endlessly charming sister and Kaluuya being the socially awkward brother—Kaluuya’s flat, sedated performance is hard to latch onto. The choice to play his character at such a low emotional frequency makes sense—he’s more comfortable talking to animals than he is to humans—but it’s hard to be emotionally invested when you’re getting no emotion back. More dramatic character arcs could have been the solution, but neither he nor Emerald fundamentally change by the end. This isn’t enough to break the film, but it definitely weighs things down.
While Get Out and Us could be simply enjoyed as tightly crafted suspense in addition to having biting social commentary, Nope can’t be separated from its thematic ambitions. To fully appreciate the film’s first half, you need to be ready to analyze what you’re seeing and constantly re-evaluate what it could mean. It’s not always as thrilling as you might have hoped, but it’s always unique. And in an era where disposable content is flooding our streaming services, that’s worth something.
Nope is still playing in theaters and is available for rent on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, and Apple TV.
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