With Nope, Jordan Peele adds to his claim as a modern-day master of suspense. Though it does not contain the pointed satire of Get Out or the social commentary-turned-mythology of Us, it could be his most purely exciting movie. That it doesn’t hit the highs of either should tell you how good his previous efforts were, because it is still very entertaining. It doesn’t come together like they did; its flaws are much more glaring. Nope is missing a steady sense of purpose and its conclusion is disappointingly conventional. However, what Peele has made is a horror/adventure/thriller that defies expectations in interesting ways. It may not go as deep in what it has to say about Hollywood and filmmaking in general as his first two movies did on their subjects, but as far as summer spectacle goes, it is pretty darn good.
OJ and Emerald Haywood are the children of a Hollywood horse trainer, who died under strange circumstances. When unexplainable things begin occurring around their ranch, they suspect an alien presence. After Em comes up with a plan to capture a UFO on camera, things get really weird.
One thing Peele has gotten incredibly skilled at is creating tension by having the audience learn about what is going on at the same time as the characters. Discovering what the protagonists are dealing with just as they do can be quite compelling when done right. Peele seems to have figured out how to do it right, because he is now three for three. The fact that he writes smart main characters makes it even more effective. They don’t always make the wisest decisions, yet they aren’t morons. While the Haywoods are probably too ambitious for their own health, they think before they risk their lives. That makes it extra creepy when bad stuff starts to happen to them, as well as making it more impactful when they are in serious danger.
Although the cast is solid, nobody has the opportunity for a standout performance. The mystery and visuals are the real stars. Daniel Kaluuya, who was nominated for an Oscar for Get Out, does his usual strong work as OJ. Keke Palmer gets a lot more dialogue as Em, the overconfident brains of the operation. They both play their roles well, despite a lack of depth to the characters. Steven Yeun is amusing as a former child actor, now owner of a local tourist attraction. Unfortunately, his subplot feels unfinished, maybe even unnecessary.
The character interactions can be fun, yet that’s not really the point of Nope. Peele has a concept and a message and is focused on executing them as best as he can. This is his most cinematic movie thus far. It is the images that are memorable, instead of the dialogue or the ideas. There are some impressive sights on display and a few haunting shots. He has proven here he can direct something big. It seems likelier than ever that a major franchise could be in his future, if he so chooses.
Daytime horror is not easy to do; light sometimes exposes the monsters hiding in the darkness as not being as scary as they initially seemed. Peele expertly uses clouds and shadows to successfully generate a feeling of unease. Something is out there and it does not appear to be friendly. The first half of Nope (123 minutes, without the end credits) is very suspenseful. The second half becomes more of an adventure, with the Haywoods trying to outsmart the threat. That stuff is exciting, but the tonal shift doesn’t fully match the build. Additionally, there are a couple of subplots that only sort of work, and don’t entirely fit with the rest of the pieces. In short, it’s a great setup and an inconsistent payoff, with a whole bunch of enjoyable moments.
3¾ out of 5
Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood
Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood
Brandon Perea as Angel Torres
Steven Yeun as Jupe
Michael Wincott as Antlers Holst
Written and Directed by Jordan Peele