Nope sees Peele further evolve into one of most compelling auteurs in contemporary cinema.
As I sat in the theatre and the credits began rolling I began to realise that I had never before seen a film like Nope – for some reason, it’s atmosphere, thematics and unorthodox twist on the Alien-invasion genre feels completely unmatched by any of works in modern cinema. Because what Nope truly excels in is its creativity. The film follows horse-training siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) as they become convinced that a UFO is frequenting their California ranch. They make it their mission, therefore, to capture evidence of this extraterrestrial presence and expose it to the world (making a lot of money in the process). Obviously with Peele at the helm, such an objective soon goes awry and sees the film delve into some of the most demented horror of recent times. Whilst Nope is, of course, suspenseful, it is so in a way much unlike most titles in its genre. The tension does to claw itself to the anticipation of the next scare or next death but through a constant acknowledgment of the unknown. Like the characters, we don’t particularly know what the threat in itself is or how it operates. It’s this mystery which propels the film’s most nail biting moments.
Kaluuya and Palmer have a fantastic sibling chemistry throughout the film and their characters perfectly compliment one another. Whilst Kaluuya’s OJ is more on the reserved side, their dynamic is balanced by Emerald’s eccentrics and hilariousness. They bring a refreshing sense of humour which somehow doesn’t feel forced or out of place even in some of the film’s darkest moments. Also, every time Oj utter’s the film’s iconic title, it never fails to make me laugh and always compliments the dire situation he is thrusted into. Steven Yeun also knocks it out of the park as ‘Jupe’ – a character’s whose defined purpose in the film is a lot more ambiguous at first but by the film’s end, makes much more sense in the context of Nope’s messaging. The film therefore treats its audience with the agency to decode much of the thematic richness at work. Never does it feel like the film is holding your hand and guiding you through its story, instead, giving the mere pieces necessary to solve the puzzle Peele is playing here.
As Peele’s third directorial outing, It only feels more appropriate for Nope to be grandiose not only narratively but too visually. The film has no shortage of special effects which in one moment can appear breathtakingly beautiful whilst bordering on perhaps a like uncanny and dull in the next. A constant however is the film’s marvellous cinematography which excellently ‘shrinks’ down its subjects through sparse wides and extreme long shots – detailing the solitude and futility of human’s themselves. The sound design remains perhaps Nope’s most technically masterful element however which alone elevates the film to new heights of greatness. Some of noises present in Nope are downright disturbing and still ring through my mind even days after viewing. The film also finds a strong interplay between appropriate periods of silence and the aforementioned sound-bytes. These sudden switches are what truly gets the heart beating.
Though entertaining and definitely enthralling throughout, Nope does seem to peak during the end of its second act. In fact, this period may perhaps take the cake for the scariest 30 mins I have witnessed in film through recent years. this accolade is rather double-edged however as the third act starts to feel a little tame in comparison. It is clear that this was supposed to be intentional however, remains less interesting nonetheless. There is also a bizarre scene in this portion of the film which acts as no more than a plot contrivance. Regardless, the third act does highlight Nope’s fluidity of narrative style and genre. At one point however, it feels as though the stakes more or less dissipate in favour of pure ‘spectacle’ – a notion which seems to be rather hypocritical given the film’s criticisms of how happenings are usually romanticised in favour of creating eye-catching novelty. Because of such, Nope suffers from what I coin as the Ghibli ending – a lot of gigantic imagery accompanied by characters just screaming each other’s names (San! Ashitaka! San! Ashitaka!). Though the film’s lowest point, the final act is still pretty decent and is hard to deny that it brings the film full circle.
All in all, Nope is an excellent sci-fi horror which stands above most of its contemporaries in both creativity and thematic richness. It’s a piece which is definitely deserving of rewatch as I feel there’s much more to unpack that what merely lies on the surface of an initial viewing.