NOPE – Film Review

Prepare to be transfixed, confused, amused and hypnotised by Nope as Jordan Peele weaves his magic once more and proves that the power of three rests within him with his third genre-defying film. It is best to watch Nope without expectations and so the advice would be to avoid any overt spoilers. Nope follows in the footsteps of Peele’s earlier successful films Get Out and Us but this is where the comparison should stop. In Nope, Peele once again demonstrates that he is a masterful storyteller and interweaves social commentary with references to the lived experience of black people within a sci-fi horror narrative to a powerful effect.

Nope will lure its audience in to a false sense of security as it is set in a remote ranch in California and therefore feels sleepy and slow paced in reflection. It is during such moments that Peele uses subtle imagery and concepts to unsettle. There are deliberately unsettling scenes at the outset showing a conflict between the relationship between man and animals in which humans automatically assume dominion over animals and may therefore be surprised when animals provide a reminder of their untamed nature. Such animal references are also connected to title cards and film references to the first form of film created by Eadweard Muybridge, being an unknown black jockey photographed to create motion film, and the horse trainer protagonists played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are direct descendants of such jockey.

Keke Palmer as Emerald in Nope
Keke Palmer as Emerald in Nope

Peele’s direction within Nope unexpectedly also draws out a connection to film further and his obvious love for his craft with scenes unveiling the advances of film from analogue stages to digital. Nope will certainly demand multiple re-watches to capture all of Peele’s cleverly intertwined symbolism and sub-texts as further evidence of his excellent filmmaking. Nope also explores the use of film as a medium to transform the lives of the ordinary to become extraordinary in this age of social media, in the hopes of going viral and becoming famous. Peele explores the dangers of the phenomenon and exposes the extremes that some may take, with the deliberate risk to their lives, to obtain that killer shot. Peele, once more, exposes that horror of every day life for many.

Nope embraces horror tropes within its examination of the daily horror within the lives of marginalised people, who are quite often dismissed, ridiculed and compared to animals. Films such as Play It Safe have also examined these connotations with uncomfortable, implicit, references to stereotyped perceptions of an animal like nature of ethnic minorities. Peele’s direction therefore remains thought provoking whilst utilising jump scares, close framing and the audience’s fear of the unknown to amplify that sensation of unease. It is an effective tool as the film’s trailer had already revealed its connection to the unknown that may be residing within our skies. 

Recent films such as Don’t Look Up have also been warning about the potential dangers within our current environment and the skies above and Nope may indeed add to that general layer of paranoia, which historical films such as Day of the Animals also emphasised. This unease is also assisted by Peele’s use of space, and sombre colour palette, within Nope. OJ, played by Kaluuya, and Emerald Haywood, played by Palmer, live on an isolated ranch as siblings, living pay cheque to pay cheque, which provides ample opportunity for creepy events to unfold. The cinematography in this sense is superb in capturing the panorama of the estate beautifully with birds’ eye views of galloping horses and the beauty of the natural landscape captured on film is simply mesmerising.

Steven Yeun as Ricky in Nope
Steven Yeun as Ricky in Nope

Nope serves as that reminder to respect the environment, nature and our fellow man. As usual, Peele’s signature vision ensures that every frame within Nope is referential and therefore pointing to iconic filmography, religious and historical symbolism. There is therefore a lot to unpack with Nope beyond its surface level as Peele reveals himself once more to be a boundary pushing master of suspense.  Aside from Nope’s overall feel of a western, with embedded references to black cowboys and even child stars as cowboys, there are also visual references to 1980s films, such as Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the television shows from that era which, with a modern lens, would be viewed as problematic. Peele shines that spotlight on us as the viewers and the consumers of such material, who may have uncomfortably laughed during problematic scenes during the era and may therefore be unwittingly complicit in the unfair treatment towards such children or animals and the tokenism levelled towards them. Nope will certainly encourage that inward reflection within its multi-faceted outlook as it straddles many genres and defies expectations.

One thing that is a constant within Nope is Daniel Kaluuya’s performance which is superb. Kaluuya returns to being directed by Peele after Get Out and depicts an introspective, all-seeing brother as OJ to Palmer’s exuberant Emerald. Kaluuya impressively conveys unspoken communication via his facial expressions. It is another standout performance and he shares tremendous chemistry with Palmer who also delivers a star quality performance which will keep her on the radar for future films.

Nope is not an easily digestible film and its disparate threads and underlying symbolism may mean that it will not be appreciated by all. However, it is exciting to discover a new direction from Peele within his filmmaking in which he even examines the omnipresent role of a director and its status to document life’s occurrences. Nope offers a fascinating perspective, which is worthwhile viewing on a large screen, preferably IMAX given that it is filmed in that format, as it will certainly be a topic of discussion for many and rightly so as you will certainly find yourself uttering ‘Nope’ too on many occasions in the film in resonance with its characters. 

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