Cinema Review: Nope

Posted 6 months ago in Cinema Reviews, Film


Director: Jordan Peele

Talent: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun 

Release Date: August 12

The first elliptical shots of Jordan Peele’s Nope reveal a chimpanzee called Gordy drenched in blood, standing on a sitcom set in 1998. We then fast-forward to the present. In the wake of their father’s inexplicable death due to falling detritus from the sky, ranchers, Otis (OJ) and Emerald (Em), played by Kaluuya and Palmer respectively, try to carry on their father’s legacy but struggle to keep his business solvent. Strange occurrences – horses disappearing, a motionless  cloud – lead the siblings to believe a UFO is bedevilling the ranch. They plan to get a money shot of the UFO to ease their financial woes. Next door lives Ricky “Jupe” Park (Yeun), a former child star on the sitcom from the start, the only one unscathed when the chimpanzee went feral and started mauling everyone. He too plans to make money off the extraterrestrials. 

Jordan Peele has the makings of a formidable horror director. In Nope, it’s clear he has a gift for moments of genuine uncanniness – i.e one of Gordy’s disfigured victims wearing a billowing veil. In the first half, there’s a distinctive, off-kilter atmosphere, charged with an uncertain expectancy. His kinetic camera movements feel grounded, as if our point of view is reacting to the unseemly events along with the characters. Peele’s also capable of moments of grisly, upsetting terror, like a breathtaking sequence where an extraterrestrial consumes a congregation of people, and we witness the digestion process from inside the creature. These are the things I look for in horror: I want to be grabbed by the lapels and left shook. 

So, for a while, it feels like Peele has got his groove back after the misfire which was Us (Mercifully, Nope is less freighted with political intent and didacticism). 

But this goodwill is eroded somewhat in the second half by Peele the populist. Whether to appease the studio or his own need to be a Spielbergian crowdpleaser, the final act is all about feel-good triumphalism. It’s fine, but you can’t help but feel a more blandly conventional film has imposed itself as Peele’s winning unpredictability gets cast aside. Also, the suspense really slackens once the true nature of these extraterrestrial invaders is revealed. 

Characterisation is an issue too: while Kaluuya and Palmer are good at portraying the unshakeable bond that belies their sibling bickering, their characters don’t have much of an arc to speak of. More intrigue and poignancy is generated by Yeun’s haunted cowboy, a more peripheral character. What’s more, the stakes feel too low: getting “an Oprah shot” of the alien would be neat and everything, but high drama it does not make.

That all said, it’s pleasing to watch a large scale blockbuster with actual ideas that have to be parsed and aren’t spelt out for us. Since certain narrative threads don’t come together, one is encouraged to draw thematic connections. There is much here about Hollywood’s exploitation of animals, children and minorities. Some say the alien is a metaphorical device for Hollywood. It only attacks if you stare directly at it. We used to believe that if you looked at a camera, it would steal your soul. Here it’s the gaze of the creature that will lead to your annihilation. Those who are too covetous of capturing the alien are eviscerated. It chews things up and spits them out, just like Hollywood did with child star Ricky. 

Peele will one day make his masterpiece. In the meantime, Nope is worth a look based on the strength of its first half.

Review: Rory Kiberd


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