Film Review: Nope

By Matthew Moorcroft

Highest Recommendation

  • Directed by Jordan Peele
  • Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea
  • R

Jordan Peele has been seen as a successor to somebody like John Carpenter, while I don’t really buy that – the two of them could not be more different – Peele’s influences in regards to his horror films spawn a multitude of sources, mainly that of Hitchcock and Kubrick. His films are tense first and foremost more then straight up scary, even if his films do contains some truly gnarly scares and great usage of imagery.

Nope heads straight first into completely new territory though – the Spielbergian. Nope is less of a straight horror film then it is a science fiction film that has horror elements in-grained into it’s very premise, which unfournately cannot be talked about with spoiling it. In the vaguest sense, it’s Jaws in the skies as a group of horse trainers for Hollywood take on… something. What is it? Well, that’s part of the fun of the movie, and one of the big reasons Nope works as well as it does.

His third masterpiece in a row, Peele’s thesis this time around is more interesting and dynamic, focusing on a multitude of elements that all means their own things. While Get Out and Us are social thrillers and focused squarely on inequality, Nope‘s is about more methodical, ambitious ideas, mainly how we as consumers engage with media. If media is really a view into the soul and our inner most desires, then why is so much of our media focused on exploitative stuff? Whether it be animals, people, or even tragedies, it’s always based around some kind of collective exploitation, does that make us bad people? Does that make media inherently bad? No easy answers here, and Peele’s doesn’t necessarily have answers himself. It’s the first of his films really have an ambiguity about itself, and while Us also has that to an extent it feels like Nope is actively challenging it’s audience to think about itself while watching it.

What’s honestly more impressive though is how Nope transitions from tone to tone with ease. It’s first third of classic Peele/Hitchcockian suspense is replaced by an utterly horrific second third which has some of the scariest sequences in recent Hollywood memory (seriously, if easily triggered, this is going to be a rough one), and then the third act transitions into full on blockbuster setpiece mode, complete with left turns, moments of danger, and crowd pleasing hurrahs. It’s actually shocking how well it goes together, using the advancements in the story and what we know about the titular threat to push the story forward in unique ways. The entire final act in general is a wild trip, ending on a note of apocalyptic proportions that is more reminiscent of Neon Genesis Evangelion then it is of any conventional alien invasion film.

Keke Palmer is probably the best cast member here, bringing a much needed energy to the film that contrasts nicely with Daniel Kaluuya’s more reserved, calculated performance. Steven Yeun, while getting little screentime compared to what you actually think he might have, gets most of the meaty thematic material here and his side of the story is key to understanding what Nope is ultimately trying to say. And Nope, ultimately says so much that I can see audience members being totally overwhelmed or even disinterested by the end in engaging with it’s core themes.

But that’s just a side effect, at least in my mind. Nope‘s real strength is it’s sheer filmmaking prowess across the board, from Hoyte von Hoytama’s excellent cinematography, the wickedly good sound design, and a masterful command of the camera in general by Peele, this joins the leagues of Top Gun: Maverick as part of the “they don’t make em like they used to” cinematic universe; a full blown master of suspense building mixed in with visuals and imagery that will stick in your mind for days afterwards.

While it’s hard to beat Get Out on a sheer script level (and it’s likely that one will never be beaten), Nope is probably the best example of Peele’s technical craft as filmmaker to date. It’s a stunningly fantastic film across the board and one of the best of the year – both suitably terrifying and thrilling in good measure, while also crowd-pleasing, entertaining, and even hilarious at points. This just a good time at the movies and everything you could ever need.

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