Nope is the next natural leap in Jordan Peele’s booming career. His first two features, Get Out and Us, may have broken new box office records for original horror films, but their production budgets don’t come even slightly close to Nope‘s 68 million cost. This is Peele’s first true jab at crafting a bona fide blockbuster, filled with all the high stake thrills and suspense you could expect from a summer release. The filmmaker has been consistently upping his ante with each new project, and Nope in many ways feels like a culmination of his journey in moviemaking thus far. From its potent, metatextual commentary on the film industry itself to its Spielbergian traits, Nope is filled to the brim with Peele’s unique persona. This is best reflected by the real cherry on top, that even when Peele goes bigger in size and scale, he keeps the film’s core rooted in unfiltered horror.
Unlike Peele’s previous works, Nope is more of a classic “creature feature” than anything else. The other obvious new distinction would be its blend of sci-fi. The film’s greatest draw-in has been its secrecy and popular fan theories. Is the title Nope actually a secret acronym? What’s with the inflatable waving tube men? And is that… a flying saucer in the sky? You would be foolish to quickly relegate this as “Peele’s alien flick.” Even if that label is somewhat accurate, there’s far more than meets the eye in Nope, both conceptually and thematically.
This presents a tricky dilemma walking into the film for the first time. Suffice to say, if you’ve spent time theorizing and setting up your own expectations, throw all of that out the window. To its great benefit, you won’t be able to see where this story is going. It’s best to go in with a totally open mind, only really expecting a creature feature ahead. Seeing as many put Jordan Peele hand in hand with “elevated horror,” a term that is already on its way out for being dismissive of the horror genre as a whole, viewing Nope as a downgrade simply because it’s a monster movie shouldn’t be the take here either, as many of these films carry just as much importance. In the case of Nope, look no further than its obvious inspirations such as Spielberg’s Jaws or Shyamalan’s Signs.
We follow the Haywood siblings, played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, who run their famous family business training horses for film shoots. According to their spiel, they are the long-distance relatives of the first person to ever be featured in a film reel, which was a brief clip of a Black man riding a horse. The Haywood Hollywood Horses Ranch has been a staple name in the industry ever since, though they’ve seen better days as of late. Family tragedy and the move to digital effects almost leave the siblings no choice but to sell the ranch to their neighbor, a child actor turned theme park grifter played by Steven Yeun. However, when the siblings discover a possible extraterrestrial anomaly on their property, they kick off a get-rich-quick scheme to save themselves from debt. The problem is that they’re not the only ones looking to profit off what they can’t explain.
Jordan Peele wastes no time in planting the seeds for his themes of crooked vs. noble entertainment. More specifically, Nope emphasizes the skewed relationship between showmanship and a hungry audience – how the desire for grand spectacle is shared between both sides yet viewers won’t think twice about chewing up and abusing artists to get their money’s worth. Peele is ultimately trying to showcase what happens when that spectacle can no longer be controlled or obtained through the lens of a Black family who is hanging onto an industry that now sees them as obsolete. If this seems like a lot already, take into consideration that the uncontrollable performing act at hand is a flying saucer. Without question, Nope is Peele’s most ambitious work to date. If the scope of this blockbuster wasn’t enough, it’s also dealing with a multitude of notable themes that always circle back to a sci-fi monster flick.
To no surprise, Peele pulls off this narrative balancing act almost smoothly. Nope isn’t so much a film that is deliberately hard to “understand” as it is one that requires your open mind and attention. There are bound to be endless videos and articles on the “top things you missed in Nope” but, in truth, it’s more deliberately straightforward than Peele’s prior film, Us. Now, a second viewing is certainly required to catch a slew of supporting details, particularly with the film’s stellar sound design and use of shadows, yet Nope’s larger intentions still come off much clearer from the get-go, thanks to its classic creature feature structure. If there’s anything you can ding Nope for it’s how it paces a pretty dense script. Peele’s juxtaposition of a monster movie with his peculiar themes falters when he has to stop the movie dead in its tracks to give further explanation to either or. This will likely be many’s least favored aspect of the film as the extent to which it drags or sidelines the plot is quite noticeable.
Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are the perfect match for this bold tale. They compliment each other’s unique qualities, bringing out the best in these characters. Kaluuya, specifically, gives a more reserved and cool performance, doing his best to keep his composure even in the face of a flying saucer, making way for some of the film’s most hilarious yet tense moments. Meanwhile, Palmer shines with a genuine brightness and comedic touch that never fails to hit the mark. Nope further solidifies Jordan Peele as an excellent actor’s director, accommodating his leads naturally so they can steal enough scenes on their own while still fitting in his realm of dialogue and tone. Steven Yeun, of course, deserves a good shout-out as it’s always fun to see him let loose in more vibrant roles. Lastly, Peele’s intricate use of the ever-chilling Michael Wincott fits superbly into the film’s throwback monster movie vibes.
Nope often feels like Jordan Peele in his most masterful form, having total control of the film’s levels of suspense and awe. It’s really a reflection of how far he’s come as a storyteller, being able to deliver his idiosyncratic taste in genre within a glorious blockbuster. When you throw in some of the most effective IMAX visuals of the year, no less in a horror sci-fi film, Nope is something that you have to absolutely see for yourself. Will everyone walk away satisfied? That depends on what kind of expectations you’re taking in on a first watch, and whether or not you think Peele is perhaps a bit too ambitious with his dense subtext. Admittedly, a story as distinct as this was always going to be a tough sale without giving away too much. Still, with today’s online obsession with knowing everything about a big movie before it’s even released, a lot of people could walk away from Nope a bit disappointed because it wasn’t this or that. Like all eccentric and effective creature features though, Nope has all the makings of a film that will only get better and more appreciated over time.