Nope follows a brother and sister that are struggling to keep their family's movie horse wrangling business afloat after the freak accident that took their father. When strange happenings begin to occur in the skies above their land, they decide to seek financial relief trying to capture the phenomena on tape.
[This movie was seen in theaters at the time of this review.]
It is hard not to get excited about a Jordan Peele property, as he's quickly become one of the most original and ambitious filmmakers of the past several years, and in the genre we love no less. Sure, I wasn't as big of a fan of Us as I was Get Out, but I appreciated the ambition of it, and the way in which Peele blends scale at a personal level. With Nope, I was particularly excited at the scifi horror elements conveyed in the trailer, especially involving what appears to be extraterrestrial or interdimensional invaders. Knowing Peele, I was expecting the unexpected, yet still merged with familiar tropes and homages to classic films.
I loved Nope. I might say it is my favorite Peele entry to date, though one could argue it's the least horror-oriented of his films. It has a levity in its score, characters and story that feels akin to the "adventure horror" subgenre Efrit and I have discussed in the past. I would say it fits quite well within that subgenre, with its humor and haunting imagery/sound design constantly swaying back and forth effortlessly.
I have seen critique surrounding Peele's flaw for trying to cram too much subplot and unnecessary character development into Nope, to the point that the subplots are too ambiguous and only serve to bog down the main plot and pacing. I find some validity in this perspective. There are a couple of subplots that feel unnecessary on the surface. To me, I found them compelling and integral to the overarching plot, all except one that didn't feel terribly necessary at all. Without going into too much detail, there was one character that seemed to be introduced to provide comedic relief and to cover some minor plot transitions. While I wouldn't say he is a waste, I found him more annoying than anything else, and his early scenes in particular manage only to slow down an already leisurely first act. Yet, even this character eventually provides enough in the third act to warrant screen time in scenes that are necessary and deliberate, so it's hard to pull him out entirely. So, I agree the film is a tad long in the tooth and struggles with some pacing early on, but the payoff is more than worth it, even as we get the gradual build of tension and action in the second act.
The acting is superb. We know what to expect from Daniel Kaluuya following Get Out, and Keke Palmer does a fantastic job in her role as the energetic and ambitious sister. I loved their dynamic, and Kaluuya's subdued, almost melancholic performance is both empathic to the audience and hilarious as he bounces off his sister's vibrancy. I loved seeing Michael Wincott pop up, as I can't recall off the top of my head seeing him in anything since Alien Resurrection. He does a great job in his role as the gruff and eccentric documentarian/director, however small it may be relative to the screen time. And of course Steven Yeun does a great job as the profiteering business man.
The story itself felt so unique in its choices and execution. It again feels like something familiar yet wholly original at the same time. This is a feeling I can say is almost exclusive to Peele movies. They manage to instill this sense of connection for fans of the genre, while also providing something new to experience. To speak specifically to that requires a tad bit of spoilers: MINOR SPOILER WARNING:
It was mentioned by someone else (I don't know the first person, as I heard it through the grapevine) that Nope reminded them of Tremors. As a HUGE fan of Tremors, this got me even more excited for Nope and I couldn't help but approach my viewing through that lens. At first, I didn't get it. Did they mean it looked like the movie took place in the same valley as Tremors? But as the movie went through its third act, I was fully engaged with their perspective. While Nope doesn't have the same pacing or self-awareness that made Tremors a cult classic, it does carry with it many of the same characteristics. It has that same levity throughout, the setting feels exactly the same, and its story is about trying to understand a creature in order to gain from it, survive it, and inevitably stop it, with the origins of the creature being of no consequence. On top of this, it feels like there are several nods to the film, such as a pig sitting on a roof and a scene involving barbed wire.
I lack the confidence in my own interpretation of movies to say convincingly that these moments are intentional, but it sure feels that way to me. I also love the Akira-esque homage we get towards the end. Not only is it a fantastic shot, but an ode (again, I can't say it was 100% purposeful) to an anime cornerstone.
Nope takes a bit to get going, and it has that ambiguity in some of its plot's branches that makes it a tad difficult to digest at times, but it is also highly entertaining with a hefty amount of underlying substance thrown in. It was exactly what I was hoping for it to be. Peele is committed to ambitious and original content, and in our favorite genre, that is the best we can hope for from someone as talented as him. It will take more viewings to capture all the nuance he rightfully or wrongfully piled into the movie, but those are viewings I'd happily commit.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 7/10
Horror Quality: 7/10
Film Quality: 8/10