“Nope” is the third film from writer/director/producer Jordan Peele. “Get Out” and “Us” are exceptionally well-crafted films catered toward the horror/psychological thriller genre. “Nope” was inspired by Steven Spielberg’s “ET,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and M Night Shyamalan’s “Signs.” Some of Hollywood’s most famous directors have taken flying saucers and mixed science fiction to create cinematic magic UFO stories. Peele’s third feature is right on par with his predecessors. “Nope” does have a horror vibe, but this time around, Peele taps heavily into Sci-Fi.
The Haywood family name dates back to the very first “assembly of photographs to create a motion picture,” currently, the Hayword Ranch is known for training horses for film and television productions. After the mysterious death of their father, estranged siblings Emerald Haywood (KeKe Palmer) and OJ (Daniel Kaluha) inherit the Haywood ranch. OJ is trying to keep the business afloat and maintain his father’s legacy, while Em would rather find fame and fortune in Hollywood.
Recently, OJ has also been doing business with Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child actor (a subplot about a chimp that snapped and went on a bloody rampage on the set of a 1990s TV sitcom) is now running a nearby tourist attraction. Some unexplainable things have been happening in the area, and Jupe seems to need more horses to keep his visitors entertained.
One afternoon, OJ sees a giant cloud-like UFO appearing in the sky and tells Emerald about it. Believing his word, she realizes they may have found the discovery of a lifetime. If they can somehow capture its proof of existence on camera, the amount of money and fame would be unprecedented.
The siblings head to an electronics store to purchase the necessary equipment to accomplish this task. This is where they meet and receive unsolicited advice from UFO enthusiast Angel Torres (Brandon Perea). The duo also reaches out to legendary cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) to catch the phenomena on film.
Daniel Kaluuya does the impossible in this role by adding immense emotion when he’s silent. The camera captures Kaluuya’s emotions brilliantly. I felt his sense of responsibility and pain in the guy. Keke Palmer gave the standout performance opposite to Kaluuya’s stoic character. Em is chatty, free-spirited, and radiates so much energy when she’s on screen.
Peel’s ability as a filmmaker keeps improving. His camera placement, frame cutting, and his clever use of sound design and music combined to create an immersive experience. He might be the first director to use inflatable mascots as a creative device for building suspense. The cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema, made night-time sequences look gorgeous. I’ve never seen evening sequences crafted as sharply and precise.
The narrative kept me off balance as bits of the mystery are revealed sparingly, slightly answered, only to be replaced by new mysteries and questions. “Nope” delves into themes about humans attempting to tame and control other species and has a lot to say about how people consume media. Peele wasn’t shy away from showing us how we view tragedy and the ability to monetize it for entertainment purposes. The heart of the film is about our obsession and arrogance with spectacle.
Savvy pacing is a primary reason why the film works. Peele doesn’t rush the assembly of putting the pieces of a puzzle together. The plot unfolds, allowing the suspense to build, similar to the plan constructed by OJ, Em, and the team. What they map out, lines up with the story’s logic, leaving us questioning whether their plan will succeed.
“Nope” doesn’t have the cultural impact as his previous films, but it’s a supersized, expertly crafted Sci-Fi/horror flick. Making it his most ambitious film to date with awe-inspiring visuals that pay homage to classics like “Jaws” without ripping it off. It’s safe to say Peele is three for three.