From left, Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Brandon Perea in “Nope.” Credit: Universal Pictures via TNS
Jordan Peele, former star of Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele” turned horror director of “Get Out” and “Us,” had high standards to live up to with his third feature film. Receiving his biggest budget to date of $68 million, Peele was obliged to attract audiences with nothing less than a shocking and original spectacle to exceed expectations.
Set in present-day Southern California, “Nope” follows siblings O.J. and Emerald Haywood working as horse trainers for cheap Hollywood executives. Following the death of their father and a disaster on a commercial set, the siblings return to their secluded ranch uncertain of their future. That night at their ranch the two discover something mysterious lurking in the clouds, what appears to be a UFO.
The emotional weight of the film rests on the performances of Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. Together, the two make a pointed contrast as siblings — O.J. is quiet, stoic and cowboy-like whereas Emerald is chatty, exuberant and unafraid to speak her mind. With the help of their friends, the two attempt to capture their strange discovery on camera with their “Oprah shot,” photographic evidence of their discovery, and more importantly, their ticket to fame.
The stylistic choices on display in “Nope” are distinctly original and reflective of Peele’s growing confidence as an auteur. With the help of cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, Peele shoots some of the most remarkably clear night scenes due to his decision to shoot with Kodak film specifically crafted for IMAX. Combined with the bizarre, and sometimes disturbing, moments in the narrative, some of the images Peele creates will stick in the viewer’s mind long after the credits roll.
The sound design of “Nope” is equally as impressive. A particularly eerie scene featuring Corey Hart’s ‘80s classic “Sunglasses At Night.” The song is so heavily distorted and layered with reverb that, combined with the events unfolding onscreen, creates for a bone chilling scene proving that “Nope” demands to be seen in theaters.
While “Nope” flexes its stylistic muscles and grounds its feet in the brother-sister dynamic, it also reaches for the stratosphere with social commentary. The film explores how the most horrific and depraved tragedies inevitably become fuel for entertainment.
Peele has proven himself to be a keen social observer, and his stories appear to be molded around his observations. His talent for capturing the spirit of the time periods makes his films more than just entertaining, but culturally relevant. With that said, “Nope” remains far from perfect.
While “Nope” is brimming with nuanced commentary and demonstrates supreme confidence in its form, unlike Peele’s prior films, it lacks fully realized characters. Neither sibling experiences notable growth as they fail to sustain adequate depth necessary for real emotional risk from the viewer.
Instead, the characters in “Nope” seem to function as archetypes; they are chess pieces for Peele to manipulate who serve as building blocks for his grand ambition. These kinds of characters shorten the film’s runtime but also narrow its emotional depth. The result is a film that delivers its share of shocks, thrills and commentary, but, ultimately stumbles across the finish line in want of a meaningful resolution.
Despite the issues with character development, “Nope” still has something to offer for everyone. Whether someone is a casual moviegoer craving a good freak-out or a hardcore film lover eager for bold creative direction, “Nope” provides an enjoyable experience for all.
“Nope,” even with some shortcomings, is exciting and well worth seeing.
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