Out of all the films to be released this year, Nope was one that was filled with anticipation. Jordan Peele has established himself as a master of modern horror with his previous films Get Out and Us. Nope sees Peele stick with the horror genre but deals with a new subgenre – aliens. The film follows the Haywood siblings, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) who are running the family ranch following the mysterious death of their father, Otis (Keith David). When the horses begin to act weird and disappear, OJ realises that there may be something extraterrestrial occurring. Along with tech-wiz, Angel (Brandon Perea) and cinematographer, Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), the Haywoods must find a way to track down and film footage of the UFO to get money.
Written and directed by Jordan Peele, Nope is another excellent addition to one of the most exciting horror filmographies of modern times. The writing is brilliant as always as Peele includes little details that help weave various plots together to show a connection throughout the film. Nope seems to be an exploration of the spectacle and how humans are obsessed with documenting and recording everything that happens. For example, Steven Yeun plays Ricky “Jupe” Park, a small theme park owner who was a child star in his youth. During his tenure as a child actor, we see an incident in which a chimp loses control on set after a balloon pops and the affect that this has on Jupe is evident in his adulthood. However, he still cannot help but look back on his traumatic childhood with fondness. This inner conflict is what drives Nope and ironically, the audience too becomes invested in the spectacle.
Collaborating with Peele again is Daniel Kaluuya who plays as Otis Jr. “OJ” Haywood. OJ is quiet and reserved, desperate to save his father’s business from closure. However, OJ’s understanding of dealing with and taming horses all his life has unexpectedly equipped him with the skills needed to handle the UFO. OJ may not have the same level of depth or characterisation as Chris in Get Out, but the chemistry he has with Em is fantastic. There are some great moments of humour from Kaluuya as well which he manages to convey even through OJ’S quietness.
Keke Palmer stars as OJ’s younger sister, Emerald “Em” Haywood. She is loud and vibrant which is extremely noticeable when she is onscreen with OJ. The first scene we see Em in when she gives a safety talk onset is fantastic and hilarious as she oversells Haywood’s services while also trying to get hired as an actress herself. While OJ seems to be the voice of reason with a level-headed approach, Em is more hot-headed and acts spontaneously without thinking ahead of the consequences. The climactic scene in which Palmer attempts to capture footage of the UFO is a testament to her ability to switch between comedy and drama instantly.
In support, Steven Yeun as Ricky “Jupe” Park in a role that may be small but is deeply complex. Jupe’s experiences as a child actor in fictional sitcom Gordy’s Home are interwoven into the film, displaying this thread of trauma that has followed him into adulthood. Even as an adult, Jupe collects memorabilia of Gordy’s Home and charges people thousands of dollars to look at his collection. He speaks of the past fondly, but we see a different tale of events, showing the contrast between what we are seeing and what we are being told. In this respect, Jupe’s retelling of his past could be a way of him trying to work through what happened as well as the obsession that people have with spectacles and the unexpected. Jupe is one of the best characters that Peele has crafted because of how nuanced every line and action in. The scene following the flashback in which we see Jupe deep in thought before quickly reverting back to a smile and cheery persona.
As with each Peele film, the music by Michael Abels remains a highlight. Abels draws on classic Western sounds and whimsical tracks to create a score that feels as though the film takes place in another universe. The track “Jupiter’s Claim” feels reminiscent of music that would be played in a real theme park and transports the audience into a world far from the glamour of Hollywood. On the other hand, tracks like “It’s In The Cloud” draws on traditional horror tropes such as fast strings and crescendo to increase the tension in the scene. In many respects, Abel’s music has become an integral component of Peele’s films thanks to his ability to adapt to the different subgenres beautifully.
Nope boasts a much bigger budget than Get Out and Us and it is easy to see why. Given the film’s alien-themed plot, it was clear that this film was going to utilise cinematography on a much larger scale. For a big blockbuster, it makes sense that Peele entrusted frequent Nolan collaborator Hoyte van Hoytema as cinematographer. Having worked on huge films such as Interstellar and Dunkirk, van Hoytema is the perfect choice as his work is larger than life, making use of vast space without it looking empty or boring. The scenes in which the characters lay a trap for the UFO makes use of the natural land while combining it with technology so they can capture the footage. On the other hand, van Hoytema also incorporates deeply claustrophobic work through the shots inside the UFO in which we see people trapped in a vertical line upon one another, awaiting their fate. The intriguing design and set up of the shot contrasts greatly with the open space that we had become acquainted with throughout the film. This is then followed by a scene that feels reminiscent of a classic horror film in which the UFO disposes of all the remains and belongings on top of the Haywood’s house. Van Hoytema’s previous work has predominantly consisted of action films but in Nope, he executes the horror elements brilliantly.
Like Get Out and Us before it, Nope sees Peele subverting horror tropes with a beautifully woven and detailed script and excellent performances all around. It feels much grander and larger in terms of scale and it’s great to see Peele expanding in terms of his storytelling and visuals. Nope is not only a story about alien invasion, but a look into mankind’s obsession with the spectacle and how we deal with trauma.
What did you think of Nope? Let me know in the comments below!
Nope is out in UK cinemas now!