Nope (2022) Movie Review
Jordan Peele movies are always an experience—whether at home or in the theater, the man can bring you from this world into his. His third horror movie is a Western, comedy, UFO genre-bender that is a veritable treasure trove of imagery. He invites us to feed our addiction to the spectacle through layered storytelling. Nope begins with a father, Otis Sr. (Keith David) and his son, OJ, played by Daniel Kaluuya, working on a horse ranch.
All parts and pieces of Peele’s word are perfectly aligned, including actor choices—OJ is a man of few words, but communicating much nonetheless. I felt quiet rage and frustration brewing from and even before his father unexpectedly died from metal sky debris (in this case, a nickel). OJ has a sense of duty and the back-breaking work ethic of a farmer: sun up to sundown. Keke Palmer’s, Emerald, however, feels no such thing. She is the youngest child, the personality, a woman of many talents, and also flaky. Her interests do not lie in the ranch or continuing their father’s legacy at Haywood Hollywood Horses. (They are descendants of the first man ever to appear on film, Alistair E. Haywood.)
Emerald is the outgoing one who networks easily and is accepted without question by the myriad of white people on set. It is her charming personality that gives her a role of performer. OJ is a strong, silent black man who shares a name with a culturally-maligned convicted killer—in the court of public opinion, anyway. White people just can’t stop themselves from commenting on the coincidence and painting him in their minds as potentially dangerous, as if his name (Otis Jr.) isn’t a perfectly acceptable nickname. Peele puts every person regardless of race in the driver’s seat to experience the micro-aggressions of racism that people of color deal with daily. The industry, at least at this level (and perhaps every level) is disturbingly white.
Gordy the Chimp
Underlying their story is one about the savagery of wild animals. Gordy, a chimp trained for television, goes berserk and kills everyone on set except Steven Yeun’s character as a young boy. Yeun is Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park of Jupiter’s Claim, a Western-themed amusement park that does business with the Haywoods. Jupe tells us the story of that day as a jaunt, something he’s been asked often but we see those memories are spliced with the trauma of the event. He was a little boy looking Death in the face.
The problem with using wild animals for really anything is that they are still wild no matter how well-trained; fear or anger could set them off and things could get very dangerous very fast. It’s like show business has forgotten that this isn’t a human: you need to tread carefully. Working with an animal is an “agreement”, the Haywoods explain—just because an animal’s spirit is broken does not mean it will never rear up.
OJ asks us: is there such a thing as a bad miracle? Yes, there is, they’re called negative miracles and come up in narratives about the supernatural all the time. Most people don’t come into contact with the paranormal in their lives; those that do are changed forever. It is like being chosen and not always in a good way.
OJ sees this flying saucer dipping through the clouds one night, which interests Emerald into getting it on film after a series of phenomena convinces her of an extraterrestrial being involved. They go to Fry’s Electronics (haven’t seen one in a minute), and they enlist the irritated help of Angel, their cashier and tech support, to set it all up. Though initially I wanted Branden Perea’s Angel to get sucked up first + probed with his bad attitude, his excitement/anxiety at the whole endeavor (which he wedged his way illegally into the enterprise of capturing it on film) won me over.
I enjoyed both his and Yeun’s subversions of racial stereotypes—just because I’ve never seen an Asian cowboy or a UFO-obsessed Latinx doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We also have the black characters code-switching their language depending on who they’re talking to—I missed some of the dialogue because it was slightly too fast, but why should these characters speak white for me? They shouldn’t; people should be who they are, even in film. The authentic depictions of black speech added to the characterizations, making them more real. We also are treated with a depiction of grief spliced with joy—not everything is or should be about black trauma (a mistake Antebellum made in 2020). I want to see more of that joy in film for all marginalized people.
When the UFO/UAP finally does rear its head for the audience, it is chilling—the saucer shape is a traveling saucer with an ‘eye’ in the center. When it approaches, there is eerie silence and electrical items die (giving off “eye of the storm” imagery). People and horses are sucked into the maelstrom and Fire in the Sky-ed (1993) through the pipe of nightmares to be devoured. This thing is a predatory animal, OJ soon realizes, and only takes those that threaten it by looking it in the eye. Looking down is an act of submission but staring straight at it, unable to tear your eyes away will get you killed.
Jordan Peele is a master of building tension—I was biting my nails for the entire third act. I did question the creature’s design because it looked like a flag to me and also at times like a butterfly. It also gave me Calvin vibes from Life (2017). I trusted Peele’s vision though I didn’t particularly understand it and read afterward that it was meant to be jellyfish-like, which makes more sense thematically. I picked up on the beast’s digestive system being similar to an owl’s; they eat animals whole then regurgitate what their bodies can’t digest, like bones and such. Jean Jacket, as it’s nicknamed by the Haywood’s, cannot process metal or blood and in a notable scene, rains blood onto their house in both a terrifying-yet-fascinating insight.
The movie gave hints of inspiration from its predecessors: Signs (2002) and the many War of the Worlds remakes. Unlike his previous works, which were more symbolic and cerebral, Nope was more straight-forward: the black Western we all deserve that captured expert-level levity with its comedy, extraterrestrial horror, and cautionary tales (and maybe even more genres I didn’t pick up on) of showbusiness, giving us the spectacle of a lifetime.
Thanks for viewing the ‘Nope Movie Review’ reviewed by writer Victoria Jaye.
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