Having studied UAPs (i.e. unidentified aerial phenomena, formerly known as UFOs) for over a decade, I’ve been waiting for a brilliant new UAP drama. UAPs were once considered nothing more than conspiracy theories—to be fair, 99% of “UFO sightings” by civilians can be explained—but anybody who has studied the extensive amounts of military intelligence gathered on UAPs in the last 80 years knows that the other 1% is quite interesting. So, I had lofty expectations for Jordan Peele’s third film: Nope. Little did I know that any expectations I had going into it were, for better or worse, immediately shattered. Why? It’s just impossible to expect what will go on in a Jordan Peele film. That is his genius. He throws knuckleballs that whizz past your face before you even swing. And he is a prolific genre rebel—churning cinematic dabbles of artistry, refined aesthetics, dark humor, a spine-tingling sense of thrill, and a meticulous labyrinth of mystery that is further heightened by the brilliant sound design. Nope didn’t blow me away, but it does engender an epic and visionary spectacle.
But again, soon after the film started, I realized yet again that I was naive to have certain expectations as for what will happen in a Peele film—and he worked his magic again this time—in a film I expected to be a UAP thriller which ultimately mutated into something much more imaginative. Shot in IMAX by the legendary Hoyte van Hoytema, the cinematographer behind Interstellar (2014) and Tenet (2020), Nope is one of those works that is simply destined for the theatrical experience in all of its grandeur. So, the plot is essentially as follows: Two siblings who run a horse ranch and handle their horses on productions for films and shows encounter a sinister force at their ranch in rural California. I’d call it a UAP, but now I’m reluctant to describe it in any more lucid terminology, for things aren’t what they seem. Meanwhile, a theme park owner nearby encounters the same phenomenon in the skies and devises an interesting plan. What follows is an audacious maze of eerie sequences, sinister twists, comical moments of relief, and a horror/sci-fi thriller with manic bursts of energy. The film can get brutal—therein I think this screenplay demands a strong gut—but you’ll be fine. There’s just an undercurrent of predator-prey themes that gradually reveal themselves. Granted, I know this synopsis sounds absurd, but you’ll thank me later for the lack of spoilers.
Anyway, rising talent Daniel Kaluuya plays the protagonist, OJ Haywood, with Kaluuya shining—after his marvelous, Oscar-winning portrayal of Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)—alongside Keke Palmer, who plays OJ’s sister Emerald. Oddly enough, while Kaluuya was great, Palmer stole the show with a vibrant, hilarious, refreshing performance that balances out the darker layers. Unfortunately, the script just doesn’t grant enough exposure to its characters’ lives for us to care about their fate. Peele’s directing is somehow both sharp and chaotic, and I’ll confess that the chaos doesn’t always unfold smoothly. Sure, there are some masterful technical and artistic aspects: from the stunning chimpanzee flashback scene that you’ll feel creeping down your spine as soon as you see it to the gorgeous shots to the careful deployment of sound. The script just isn’t very cohesive. The screenplay’s highlights are still dazzling though, and I’d call Nope an epic due to its ambitious nature. Plus, while the bar is lower for horror films than it is for dramas, Peele always packs enough punch to earn respect among cinephiles.
Still, when I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t help but feel that Nope didn’t quite seem to figure out what it is—or what it wants to be. There’s something clotted about the way these oddly arranged scenes combine in one screenplay. I remain torn between wondering if this film is pointless or if it is actually some sort of profound champion of transcendental art. Either way, I certainly had a blast watching it. And I’m sure it must be seen several times to make sense—so I’m excited to see it again. I imagine that my thoughts on it will evolve, yet I don’t know if they’ll be for better or worse; I’m hoping the former. Who knows? All I know is that this film is a breath of fresh air. It has a weird aesthetic juxtaposed with a visceral aura containing horror, thriller, and sci-fi facets. If I were to rank Peele’s films, I’d put this one just above Us (2019). For now, Get Out (2017) retains the crown. Then again, art is art; comparisons are just a lame thing I love to do. Then again, you can’t really compare Nope to anything. Just be open-minded and prepare to remain on the edge of your seat. And finally, whether you love Nope or not, it’s time for us to embrace the reality that Peele will emerge from his trilogy of high-quality hits as a certified legend within his signature genres.