Jordan Peele’s Nope is the former funnyman’s third directorial effort, but given the massive success of his first two movies, it had much to live up to. Get Out was an emphatic debut, and though Us proved somewhat more divisive, it was a masterpiece nonetheless. Though Peele’s prior experience lies mostly within the realms of comedy, his abilities as a writer/director/producer in the genre of elevated horror speak for themselves.
Nope continues the trend set by Peele’s previous movies. Opening with an interesting and somewhat ambiguous scene to hook the audience (with the true meaning behind it revealed much later on), Nope gets off to a solid an unmistakably powerful start. Launching into its narrative proper takes a few additional scenes of scattered exposition, but all begins to become cohesive before too long.
Nope‘s story is a classic slow burn, because though it starts relatively slow, the foundations are laid from the very first scene. Peele sets about painting an initially unseen picture by building a world around his characters: OJ takes over the Haywood ranch after his father’s sudden tragic death, and his unreliable sister dips in and out of his life. OJ’s talents lie with training animals, and that’s something that’s shown to be immediately undervalued in the superficial world of Hollywood.
From there, Nope slowly but surely builds toward its unseen end, becoming more and more tense as it does so. Loose threads slowly begin to weave together to form a rich narrative tapestry that belies Peele’s singular vision: Nope is a rumination on humanity’s need to conquer and tame nature in order to survive. This touches every element of Nope‘s story, from OJ’s work at the ranch to the threat up above, and even in the interpersonal relationships of its characters. Nope is a film with a purpose, and although it’s not immediately clear what that purpose is, it’s certainly present throughout.
As well as existential horror and sci-fi elements, Nope contains a number of small moments of self-aware comedy that make it feel like an accurate representation of humans dealing with something unknowable. By injecting small moments of levity into its otherwise heavy story, Nope engages its audience on multiple levels. To this end, Nope transcends any single genre, and its tone is consistent enough that this isn’t a problem.
Nope Proves Jordan Peele’s Auteur Status
Nope‘s core cast are one of its biggest strengths. Daniel Kaluuya’s quiet and considered OJ is the perfect counterpoint to Keke Palmer’s energetic Emerald, with the two siblings creating an interesting duality of personalities. Steven Yeun’s guarded performance is decidedly understated, and Brandon Perea and Michael Wincott help to perfectly round out Nope‘s supporting cast with their well-informed efforts.
The film’s ending creates a parallel with its opening scene, and it subtly creates a statement on how the individual can manage their own trauma. Some are tempted to sensationalize it, whereas some learn from it in order to move forward, and that’s the film’s central message: only by learning to live with what’s lurking unseen around us can we truly move forward. It’s a message that gets somewhat jumbled in the telling, but it’s there from the very beginning.
Nope is a curious film, because it blends its subtlety with more literal imagery to create something that’s somewhat difficult to decipher. However, the very fact that it has enough depth to do so at all should count for something: Jordan Peele clearly knows how to build an allegory, even if it’s a confusing one. Even so, Nope is the sort of film that comes with a liberal dose of the subjective, and it’s all the more interesting for it.
Finally, Nope is a gorgeously bleak visual spectacle. Its landscapes are stark and barren, but by design: it reflects the realities of OJ and Emerald’s task, and that simplicity is juxtaposed by the complexity of their problem. Therein lies Nope‘s real mystery: everything seems to have its opposite, and that can be difficult to untangle. Maybe, much like the film’s antagonist, making sense of the intangible is entirely the point, although maybe that’s too grand an ask from Jordan Peele in just his third feature film.
Summary: Nope is Jordan Peele’s most cryptic story yet – though its generally simple story is somewhat bloated with allegory, it’s so meticulously crafted that it’s enjoyable on almost every level.
Highlight: Nope‘s nail-biting climax is undeniable proof of its power, as well as a number of small narrative touches that prove Peele’s immense talent as a storyteller.