Directed by: Jordan Peele
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Written by Taylor Baker
Jordan Peele’s “Nope” might best be described as a UFO blockbuster but as with “Get Out” and “Us,” “Nope” is rife with allegory and homage. One can’t engage with the film without giving away a large part of its machinations, but if you’ve seen the trailers it’s safe to say you know that there’s something in the sky above Haywood Ranch (the ranch the film is built around). A notably jacked Daniel Kaluuya lives on that ranch with his father Otis (Keith David), Kaluuya plays Otis Jr. or OJ, reteaming with Peele after starring in the runaway hit “Get Out.” Kaluuya plays the strong silent type, and unfortunately, his character makes for the thinnest of arcs and consequently places pressure on the other caricature-esque side characters and the plot to keep the audience invested. Largely they all fail.
After working with the talented Mike Gioulakis as cinematographer on “Us,” Peele tapped Hoyte von Hoytama famed cinematographer of renowned films like “Interstellar,” “her,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and “Let the Right One In (2008).” The richness of the depth of field and the lighting in “Us” after “Get Out” was notable. There were saturated indoor and outdoor nighttime scenes in that film that were gorgeous. Similarly, the frequent daytime outdoor cinematography that comprises much of “Nope” also seems to be an evolution for Peele. From the beginning of the film as with Peele’s other entries, there is a firm sense of visual control. My gripes have everything to do with what that control points toward. Such as what might be described as a B side to the film revolving around a chimpanzee going crazy and murdering people on a television show, a scene which the film opens upon. The footage of this balloon-induced frenzy is interspersed throughout the film and directly foreshadows the events of the film’s A Side. The issue predominately being that this B Side doesn’t actually add a damn thing. It builds out the “World of Peele” sure, and if a filmmaker wants to create their pseudo world the way Tarantino has, who am I to say they shouldn’t. But the emptiness of it, looking in that opening sequence at the CG chimpanzee hunkered at the end of the couch beside the pale legs of a maimed or murdered woman doesn’t build out anything meaningful, and actually reinforces an overall issue I have in film and television broadly. Relying on significant plot events through CG animals. It makes the world flimsy, the tenets and the walls of what is true and what isn’t stop blurring and begin to separate like oil and vinegar or gas and a milkshake. There is no mistaking what you’re looking at for being real, especially in a film meant to harrow the viewer, keeping the audience leaning in and not questioning the validity of a CG chimpanzee seems like a note Jordan should have received.
“Nope” also doesn’t have a lasting emotional hook. Watching Peele comment on society and filmmaking is interesting. But it’s neither entertaining nor engaging. It just is, like a mediocre documentary on a subject with which you’re unfamiliar. The characters that comprise “Nope” seem real at first glance but they are remarkably thin and serve as vehicles to a predetermined finale rather than individuals that one can map interiority to along the way. We learn very little about the humans the story hinges upon, and what we do learn like Jupe’s (Steven Yeun) flashback sequences to the chimpanzee incident don’t inform so much as play as a cutesie foreshadowing plot device and opportunity to deliver harrowing imagery. Then there’s the issue of how OJ and Em’s father Otis (Keith David) died without the same bloody viscera material manifesting as you see later in the film.
Whether you’re in awe or anemic to Peele’s retreading of Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” etc., or his playful references to Shyamalan’s “Signs” there’s no doubt that Peele’s deference for those that came before and vision for his own films is committed. In a world of regurgitated franchise reboots “Nope” certainly stands above the status quo, but when you’re this heavily invested in retooling and commentating on what came before it’s hard to see “Nope” as anything more than an echo.
“Nope” is in wide theatrical release.
You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on Letterboxd, Twitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.