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A brother and sister struggling to keep their family horse ranch in business and a former child star who now runs a Western-themed tourist attraction bear witness to a mysterous phenomenon threatening a rural California town.
This is the latest film from Oscar-winner Jordan Peele, director of Get Out and Us, and half of the comedy duo Key & Peele. It stars Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Judas and the Black Massiah), Keke Palmer (Turnt Up with the Taylors, Lightyear), and Steven Yuen (The Walking Dead, Minari).
Social media went crazy when Jordan Peele corrected a member of the press for calling him the king of horror. He may not consider himself the king of horror, but he continues to show audiences why he deserves to be mentioned among the horror greats with his new film Nope. The film is not only his funniest horror film yet, but also one of his most creative. Falling debris, flying saucers, things being sucked up into the sky, you are not quite sure what this threat is, but it is horrifying.
I immediately liked Daniel Kaluuya’s character, OJ Haywood, the laid back and mild mannered farmhand who connects better to horses than people. His carefully controlled body language and expressions—especially when evading the UFO—make each moment believable, even in the most outlandish situations. His passion for horses reads as genuine and his character’s knowledge of the animals plays a huge part during his encounters with the mysterious, possibly evil, entity in the skies above. His chemistry with Keke Palmer, who plays his sister Emerald, crackles with authentic sibling energy. Just as OJ is a mild-mannered introvert, Em is flashy and charismatic. They rely on each other to make it through a series of an increasingly difficult challenges, from saving their financially struggling ranch to escaping a UFO.
Palmer’s performance provides a bunch of laughs. She is a free spirit with the energy of a aspiring celebrity. She sets up the character with a late arrival on the set of a commercial and immediately becomes the center of attention. Her ability to charm and captivate people with the story of her family history and its connection to Eadweard Muybridge’s galloping horse illusion and the origins of the film industry make for a fun introduction. Palmer is always able to tap into raw emotion when her character is emotionally disturbed or overcoming some obstacle. Just watch her performance in Alice and you’ll see what I mean.
Steven Yeun as the former childhood actor Ricky “Jup” Park, is both kind of sleazy and compelling. After a crazy incident on the set of his former sitcom Gordy’s Home, he is left scarred and driven to make up for his lost fame with his theme park and his “Star Lasso Experience.” His side story at first seems interesting yet irrelevant, but pays off by the end of the film. The story of what happened on set is horrifying, and would make for a good short horror film all by itself. Yeun makes the audience believe he’ll do anything to recapture his glory days. His ability to drain the expression out of his face when he recalls the sitcom incident is uncanny.
The rest of the cast, including Brandon Perea as an eccentric Fry’s Electronics employee who often supplies the comic relief and Micheal Wincott as creepy cinematographer Antlers Holst add to the offbeat tone that consistently puts the viewer on edge. A lot of that unease also has to do with Peele’s style of directing, inspired by elements of Hitchcock and Spielberg’s work (specifically Jaws). The UFO is barely shown throughout the film, creating a fear of the unknown. Every time it sucked up something I thought to myself, “Nope! I am done. I would quit.” The characters in the film are the same way, so you won’t find yourself yelling at the screen, “Why are you doing this?!” or “Why are you going that way?!” Because, unlike in many horror films, the characters make choices any normal person would make.
The sound in Nope is exceptional and plays a big part in creating moments of tension. Even when there’s no background music, just organic sounds in the background, it has an effect—you brace yourself for coming jump scare, but sometimes the characters are just examining their surroundings.
As Peele fans know, his films aren’t merely horror art but social commentary. They don’t have a slasher antagonist going around killing people and leaving behind mutated bodies for the sake of gratuitous violence. The fear he presents dives deeper into your psyche and lives in your head rent free. By the end I found myself thinking, “I never thought of UFO’s that way,” and, “What? That was real?” I have my own theories on what it all means, but there are many potential interpretations, and articulating them would spoil the film anyway. If you’re a horror fan I highly recommend watching Nope yourself and seeing what you get out of it. Then compare notes with your friends.
Nope is a uniquely crafted horror film that brings together a creative premise, striking visuals, and terrific performances. It’s like a Marco Bambrillo motion artwork, many moving parts that come together to tell a really awesome story.
Jordan Peele fans or fans of horror in general. This film is best seen with a group of people to discuss your own theories about what it means afterwards.