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Nope Movie Review

Nope(2022) movie poster

Theatrical Release: July 22, 2022 / Running Time: 131 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya (Otis "OJ" Haywood Jr.), Keke Palmer (Emerald Haywood), Steven Yeun (Ricky "Jupe" Park), Brandon Perea (Angel Torres), Michael Wincott (Antlers Holst), Wrenn Schmidt (Amber Park), Keith David (Otis Haywood Sr.), Donna Mills (Bonnie Clayton), Barbie Ferreria (Nessie), Eddie Jemison (Buster), Oz Perkins (Fynn Bachman)


Jordan Peele wasted no time transitioning from sketch comedian to respected filmmaker. His first feature as writer-director, 2017's Get Out, was no mere promising debut but an announcement to take notice of a relevant new voice in modern cinema.
That social commentary-heavy horror film did not just succeed with critics and moviegoers; it earned Peele the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Peele followed that up in 2019 with Us, another bold and striking horror movie that was both heralded and well-attended.

Nope, Peele's third film as auteur, opens this week to healthy anticipation and calculated ambiguity. Backing the filmmaker for a third time, Universal has chosen to reveal little about the project, rightfully believing that Peele's name alone should attract interest, especially at the height of the summer moviegoing season.

Nope opens with a shocking scene, a bloodied 1990s television set where something ghastly has occurred. The film then jumps to the present day where OJ Haywood (Get Out lead Daniel Kaluuya, fresh off his Best Supporting Actor Oscar win for Judah and the Black Messiah) and his father (Keith David) are training horses. The two run Haywood Hollywood Horses, a small business whose specialty is wrangling horses for show business opportunities. The family operation can be traced all the way back to the first motion picture subject, OJ's great-great-great grandfather, a jockey whose horse riding is the first activity ever captured on film.

A freak occurrence sends Otis Sr. to the hospital, leaving OJ and his self-promotional younger sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) to run things in his absence. The siblings are struggling to make a go of it, having to sell a number of the family's horses to nearby Jupe Park (Steven Yeun), the face of a western theme park whose long career in showbiz dates back to that traumatic sitcom set on which we opened.

Daniel Kaluuya reunites with the writer-director of his breakout role, playing a showbiz horse wrangler in Jordan Peele's "Nope."

While overseeing the family ranch, Otis and Emerald become convinced there is some kind of deadly alien presence lurking in the area. They reluctantly enlist an overeager Fry's tech salesman (an amusing Brandon Perea) to help install security cameras that they hope can capture indisputable proof of otherworldly visitors, footage that would provide much-needed financial help.

I won't delve any further into the plot because it's fun not knowing what to expect here. Peele once again gives us something creative and original. As in Us, he makes use of real world curiosities to elevate the storytelling. Whereas that film turned the 1980s fundraiser Hands Across America into a plot point, this one utilizes Hollywood lore, whether it's the aforementioned silent film pioneer (actually Eadweard Muybridge), a detailed description of the late-'90s "Saturday Night Live" cast that supposedly skewered the sitcom set tragedy, or a Scorpion King crew member T-shirt that carries weight.

Peele's movies are not conventional or predictable. There are few filmmakers who dependably take us on an interesting journey every time they write a script and take the helm. Here, Peele reminds us of a few others in that class, with certain narrative structures and world-building techniques evoking Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, without feeling derivative. Whereas Get Out and Us were unquestionably horror movies, Nope is more of a science fiction yarn and perhaps inevitably, it recalls some of Steven Spielberg's iconic forays into extraterrestrials. Nope earns its R rating and maintains an edge with several unsettling moments, but it still invites comparisons to Spielberg with its universal themes and technical splendor (more to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and War of the Worlds than E.T.).

Siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) and their new Frye's techie friend Angel (Brandon Perea) plan to capture something extraordinary on film in Jordan Peele's "Nope."

Three films in, it's another filmmaker who Peele most readily seems to parallel: M. Night Shyamalan. That is not the insult the last twenty years have rendered it. Shyamalan broke through in 1999 with The Sixth Sense,
a blockbuster thriller that became the rare genre film to compete for the industry's highest honors. Sound familiar? The comparison extends to the filmmakers' follow-ups. Like Unbreakable, Us was a good film that was stylistically similar to its predecessor but not quite as good. Which makes Peele's third film akin to Shyamalan's fifth, Signs. It's all been downhill since Shyamalan's rural Pennsylvania alien movie, a crowd-pleasing hit twenty summers ago. Nope is similar to Signs in tone, subject matter, setting, and skillfulness. It also invites some comparable criticisms with the tidiness and conventionality of its final act.

Peele has packed a lot of ideas into Nope and not all of them work together upon a first impression. They do nonetheless add up to a distinct and complex film, the kind of work that gives you more moments to think about it than it does visual effects shots.

There is broad appeal to Peele's latest, a summer movie with intelligence and humanity. Most big studio wide releases during these months are content to give viewers just one or two things, usually spectacle and action. Nope does more than that and avoids putting all of its eggs in one familiar basket. That could potentially hurt its commercial prospects and Cinemascore, but it makes it a better and more interesting movie than most of what this summer has given us. Captured on IMAX cameras by Hoyte van Hoytema (Christopher Nolan's new go-to director of photography), the settings and atmosphere shimmer. There are a few things that don't work, particularly one truly distasteful moment not worth spoiling. But most of it works and is highly entertaining and in a way different from the other popcorn fare the studios give us each summer.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Thor: Love and Thunder Elvis Lightyear Jurassic World: Dominion
Written and Directed by Jordan Peele: Get Out

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Reviewed July 22, 2022.

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