“Nope” Goes Beyond Expectations


Peele’s latest feature film debuted on July 22 in theaters. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Landis Hall, Contributing Writer

There’s a recurring moment in Jordan Peele’s latest spine chiller, “Nope,” that seems entirely inconsequential at first glance. It involves a sitcom starring a monkey named Gordy who, upon being startled by the pop of a balloon, flies into a frenzied rampage and mauls his human castmates before being shot by the police, all in front of a live studio audience. The incident initially appears to have relatively little bearing on the main plot of the film, a classic UFO story in the vein of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” by way of John Carpenter with a healthy dash of “King Kong” sprinkled in for good measure. But this seemingly isolated moment is, for all intents and purposes, the thesis statement of “Nope”: What are we, as human beings, willing to risk in the name of spectacle? “Spectacular” indeed is the most appropriate adjective to describe this film.

“Nope” is best seen on the largest screen, at the loudest volume, with the rowdiest crowd possible. In short, it’s the kind of audacious and original Hollywood blockbuster that feels nonexistent  nowadays.

The plot revolves around the Haywoods, a family of ranchers who train and supply horses for use in Hollywood films, inspired by Eadward Muybrudge’s early experiments with motion picture technology. OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) struggles to maintain the family business in the wake of his father’s (Keith David) mysterious death, while his sister Em (Keke Palmer) tries her luck in Hollywood. After OJ spots a flying saucer near the ranch one night, he and Em resolve to capture the UFO on film and give their family name the glory it has long deserved, recruiting naive electronic store employee Angel (Brandon Perea) and jaded cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) in their quest to capture “the impossible shot.” Also crossing paths with the Haywoods is Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), the former child star who survived the aforementioned Gordy incident and currently runs a wild west theme park  

These characters, brought to life by their respective actors in a simultaneous brew of pity and dark comedy, cannot conceive a life outside of movies and TV. Jupe can only revisit his trauma by recounting a Saturday Night Live sketch about it, while the Haywoods’ first instinct upon seeing the UFO is not to “get out” but rather to document it on camera for their own personal and financial gain. These characters ring true in today’s social media driven climate, where anyone can turn anything into  a viral goldmine of content by simply pointing a camera at it. My only real gripe with the story is that Yeun’s character didn’t have much screen time, despite being one of the top billed performers, as I found him to be the most subtly complex and fascinating of the bunch. 

Of course, the real draw of “Nope” is Jordan Peele’s directing. By this point, he is one of the few instantly recognizable modern day popular auteurs, and this movie cements the prestige he gained from “Get Out” and “Us.” The film is also the first in the horror genre to be shot in 65 mm on IMAX cameras, which cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema uses to lend a sense of unease and dread to the wide open valleys of southern California. Most horror movies use their camerawork to create claustrophobia (a sensation not entirely absent from “Nope”), but this particular film instead emphasizes the vast, infinite skies above; you can’t see the cloud obscured threat, but it sure can see you. This tension is further explored through the film’s clever use of music. When the alien approaches, it causes all nearby electrical power sources to shut down, and any music that is playing begins to eerily slow down and warp. Making a large, clearly visible alien seem truly scary is a hard feat, but this musical aspect allows for the film to create palpable tension and suspense with ease. Clocking in at just over two hours, “Nope” takes its time in telling the story, and while it never veers too far off course, it could have certainly bee n trimmed down by just a few minutes. Nonetheless, “Nope” is one of the finest summer blockbusters in recent years, and there’s nowhere else for Jordan Peele to go but up.