Nope (2022) poster

Nope (2022)


USA. 2022.


Director/Screenplay – Jordan Peele, Producers – Ian Cooper & Jordan Peele, Photography – Hoyte Van Hoytema, Music – Michael Abels, Visual Effects Supervisor – Guillaume Rocheron, Visual Effects – MPC (Supervisor – Jeremy Roberts), NBC Universal Studiopost & Screen Scene Limited, Special Effects Supervisor – Scott R. Fisher, Production Design – Ruth De Jong. Production Company – Monkeypaw Productions.


Daniel Kaluuya (OJ Haywood), Keke Palmer (Emerald Haywood), Brandon Perea (Angel Torres), Steven Yeun (Ricky “Jupe” Park), Michael Wincott (Antlers Holst), Keith David (Otis Haywood Sr), Terry Notary (Gordy), Wrenn Schmidt (Amber Park), Osgood Perkins (Flynn Bachman), Donna Mills (Bonnie Clayton), Jacob Kim (Young Ricky “Jupe” Park)


Following the death of his father, OJ Haywood takes over the family ranch in California, working as a horse wrangler, providing horses for use in movies, along with the help of his sister Emerald. Following an incident on a film set, their services are terminated. OJ struggles to survive financially by selling off some of the horses to former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park who runs a neighbouring Western theme park. At the same, OJ experiences strange things occurring on the ranch. With the aid of electronics assistant Angel Torres, they place cameras around the property. Angel observes that there is a cloud sitting in the sky that does not move. Becoming excited about the possibility, OJ and Emerald bring in a cinematographer, believing that they can obtain evidence of a UFO.

Director/writer Jordan Peele found massive success with Get Out (2017), a modestly budgeted Blumhouse production that went on to earn a substantial $170 million at the US box-office. The film’s charged tackling of race issues became a hit with audiences and won Peele an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Prior to this, Peele had worked as a comedy writer/performer and had written Keanu (2016). After Get Out, Peele immediately became a major new Hollywood power broker. He subsequently returned as director with Us (2019) and was attached to a slew of projects, including producing Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman (2018), producing/acting as narrator of a revival of The Twilight Zone (2019-20), producing the tv series Lovecraft Country (2020) and writing/producing the remake of Candyman (2021).

Nope marks Peele’s third film as director. Peele now sits around the same place that M. Night Shyamalan did in the early 2000s. Shyamalan had made The Sixth Sense (1999), which became a runaway audience success and gained a reputation as genius auteurs as a result. The same happened with Peele and Get Out. This ended up with a bunch of people throwing lots of money in their direction and fairly much the creative freedom to do what they wanted. In Shyamalan’s case, this freedom resulted in a bunch of woolly-headed, although by no means always uninteresting, films – ones that in many cases would surely have been shot down by the studio if they were pitched by a less high-profile a name.

Jordan Peele has not quite reached the point of the kickback against M. Night Shyamalan and his woolly-headedness that started to happen between 2004 and 2008. Although it may well be starting – Nope has attracted the most mixed reviews of any of Peele’s films to date, even if most people still stand by him as a major new talent. (On that question, I remain more divided).

Brother and sister Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer on the ranch n Nope (2022)
Brother and sister Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer on the ranch

For me, Get Out worked well as variant on a Body Snatchers film written across racial divides. On the other hand, Us came with much more of a mixed feel –Peele had fine-tuned himself as a director considerably and created a striking doppelganger film but where this was attached to a series of murky metaphors and meanings that left you puzzled as to what was going on. Even Candyman, which seemed to set out to reclaim the racial themes of the original, came out as much more of a mixed film. Nope comes with the same swim of metaphors and allegories attached to it. Even the debate about what the title actually refers to – with some taking it as meaning ‘Not of Planet Earth’ – seems to indicate just how vague Peele leaves the film.

On one level, Nope is a film about UFOs. We have had a bunch of these since the 1950s. The type of film we have here began essentially with Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). It is worth pointing to some of these others such as Communion (1989), Fire in the Sky (1993), The Fourth Kind (2009), Dark Skies (2013), The Gracefield Incident (2017) or Dark Encounter (2019).

Nope nominally falls into the same bracket as these other films except that Jordan Peele pads getting to the UFO scenes out with more than an hour’s worth of backstory. We get scenes with Danel Kaluuya watching his father Keith David killed by falling fragments; a scene with Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as horse wranglers on a film set; their attempts to sell horses to Steven Yeun where he shows them his shrine to the ill-fated tv series he appeared in; along with assorted flashbacks to the younger Yeun on the set of the tv show where the chimpanzee went amok and killed everybody else. These scenes serve to extrude the films out to over two hours in running time. All of these abovemetioned other films would have trimmed this to a handful of scenes before cutting to the chase.

Daniel Kaluuya or horseback pursued by a UFO in Nope (2022)
Daniel Kaluuya or horseback pursued by a UFO

Certainly, the characters are an engaging assortment. Daniel Kaluuya, memorable in Peele’s Get Out, seems to be channelling the laconic performances and intonation of Spike Lee so much that I swore that it was Lee present in a number of scenes. At oppose to Kaluuya’s closed off character, Keke Palmer plays a character of random energy. There is fine support from Steven Yeun, Brandon Pereia and Michael Wincott. Peele gets full marks for crafting interesting and rounded characters.

However, Peele’s long extruded focus on his characters creates a lopsided film. In drawing us into the characters’ stories, he creates a false expectation that this is of some significance that is going to play out later. However, it never does. Most of the UFO aspect of the story could be played out by the same minimally described characters that appear in Dark Skies et al and it make little difference to this as a story. This frustration is never more evident in the way that Peele sets up a long set-up and multiple flashbacks to the incident where Steven Yeun’s character was on the set where a chimpanzee went murderous and killed everyone except him. You expect this to play out in some way but it never does – the killer chimp scenes are of no relevance to the rest of the story. Indeed, Yeun is swept aside in a scene where he is in mid-performance at the rodeo and things start to happen before the scene abruptly cuts and all we are merely told later that people have gone missing.

Jordan Peele’s one unusual effect is treating the UFO less as a visiting spaceship and more as an apex predator. Thus the UFO is not coming to abduct people but devour them. (In this respect, the recurring theme throughout of animals – from the horse reacting on the film set to the Gordy flashbacks – form a thematic undercurrent to the film about animal behaviourism). This plays out okay. Peele creates some eerie and unusual scenes with Kaluuya seeing beings around the stables and a horse mock-up coming flying through his windshield. On the other hand, the climactic scenes leave you feeling ho-hum. It’s a film that feels as though it should have built up to something monumental but so overloads the backstory scenes that it makes the eventual delivery a let-down.

Trailer here

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