TL;DR – This is a film that swings wildly, where you have moments of pure terror, but I am not sure it all comes together in the third act.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film.
Warning – This film contains scenes that may cause distress.
Nope Review –
Today, I look at a film that is quite difficult to review. Challenging in that from a production perspective, I have rarely seen a movie that works as well as this. But from a narrative perspective, there were moments that negatively impacted me that I am still trying to process the day after. It is also a film that is hard to talk about without immediately heading into spoilers that might impact your time with the film. Well, it might be difficult, but I’m still going to take a solid crack at it. As such, it is time to dive into our review of Nope.
So to set the scene, we open on a TV set in the 1990s, a sitcom with rows for audience seating, but only there is no one there even though the applause signs still flash. But we see a chimpanzee sitting with blood on its hands while a lifeless body lies in the background. Flash forward to the current time, and we are introduced to Otis Jr. “OJ” Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya), who works with his father Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) at Haywood Hollywood Horses. A ranch that trains horses for TV and movie productions. While OJ is doing all the work and wondering where his sister Emerald “Em” Haywood (Keke Palmer) is, he hears something odd coming from the sky. Then what looks like hail starts hitting the ground on a clear day, but it is not hail but metal shrapnel like keys and coins, one of which strikes Otis Sr. in the head. While the siblings struggle to keep the ranch going in the wake of this tragedy, the story of the objects falling out of a plane just does not hold up, and they start to wonder what else might be out there in the sky.
For this review, the first part will be a spoiler-free discussion of the facets that worked spectacularly. Then we will enter a section with spoilers to discuss the narrative and themes. I want to approach it this way because if this film is your jam, then going into it with as little knowledge as possible is best. It is also because how you react to this film will be very subjective. Listening to people’s conversations as I walked out of the cinema last night, there were wildly different experiences on show. The first part that worked as well as it did was that I instantly bought OJ and Em as siblings. There was an energy there that radiated that these two characters had a long history with ups and downs. I have watched many films where characters are meant to be siblings, but you feel no connection, but not so here. Without that connection, none of the rest of the film would have worked because it is the cornerstone on which much of the thematic content rests as we get deeper into the action. Daniel and Keke give stellar performances throughout this film, bouncing at very different wavelengths that compliment each other.
Nope also excels with some of the best sound designs I have ever heard. The first layer of this is always using diegetic music, mainly from a record player, so you have an audible cue when something terrible is about to happen. But more than that, the sound design for the antagonist in this film is haunting. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of your arms just listening to it even when you can not see it. This is amplified but the use of wind, so you can only hear snippets of it, like a conversation, lifted from far away. It also helps that horse’s neighs and cries are so universal that you instantly know what is going on just from them, which works into the way that the film uses and manipulates tension throughout, interspersed with these more humorous moments.
However, while there was a lot about this film that I liked, I was struck with issues regarding the narrative, but to explore that, we will be delving into [SPOILERS] from here. Nope is a film that dissects the idea of spectacle, what people will do to obtain it, the costs involved, and what we as an audience will watch. On the surface, this works. Hollywood is littered with cases of exploitation, with horses copping the brunt of this. The scenes with Gordy (Terry Notary) are intentionally confronting and chill you to the core. I think this worked well because you could see how Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) commercialised his own trauma to chase that spectacle.
All of this leads to the big reveal, which, if you ignored my last [SPOILER] warning, be prepared that there will be [MAJOR SPOILERS] here. The reveal here is that they are looking for a UFO, but not just that because it is not aliens, but one creature, a predator. Indeed, given some of the religious/Evangelion iconography, there is a real chance that in the context of this narrative, they are not aliens and indigenous to Earth. However, the moment that we found this out was the moment I personally started to have big problems with the narrative. We learn this when the ship, now called Jean Jacket, comes down to Jupe’s theme park Jupiter’s Claim. He had been feeding the predator horses on a weekly schedule, but instead of taking the horses, Jean Jacket sucked up Jupe, his family, his staff, and all the people who came to watch a new performance, including a bunch of kids. We see them being sucked up inside the ship, and then the people inside screaming with the realisation that they are being eaten. Look, this might just be personal, but they took this scene too far into the realm of horrific torture and then let it linger. I understand the intent behind the scene, it is interspersed with the story of the chimp, and the reference to Siegfried & Roy was not lost on me. But that scene sat with me for the rest of the film, all the way during the more conventional third act ending, and even now as I write this.
In the end, do we recommend Nope? Honestly, from my personal experience, no, I can’t. This film really shook me, and maybe that is a recommendation of sorts for some. But I will be thinking of those screams for a while, I feel. If you liked Nope, I would recommend to you Get Out.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Nope
Directed by – Jordan Peele
Written by – Jordan Peele
Music by – Michael Abels
Cinematography by – Hoyte van Hoytema
Edited by – Nicholas Monsour
Production/Distribution Companies – Monkeypaw Productions & Universal Pictures
Starring – Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Wrenn Schmidt, Keith David, Jacob Kim, Donna Mills, Barbie Ferreira, Eddie Jemison, Osgood Perkins, Devon Graye, Terry Notary, Sophia Coto, Andrew Patrick Ralston & Jennifer Lafleur
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R