The residents of a lonely gulch in inland California bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery.
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out (2017), was a cinematic masterpiece. It was lightning in a bottle that most filmmakers could only dream of achieving. His second time up to bat with US (2019) was not as well received, but whether or not NOPE will be praised is a daunting question that I’m still not as sure of myself. Nope takes what we’re already familiar with, and gives it an interesting spin, but has trouble connecting all the story points to make it all relevant. It’s an entertaining feature, yet still has a few missed opportunities that keep it from being magnificent. It centers around two siblings that witness a UFO in the sky, and they will make no stops until they can capture it on camera for proof, hoping to make a small fortune from the footage. It’s a superior film to US, but still is not remotely close to what made his name stand out in Hollywood with Get Out.
The best parts of the film are the performances by both the lead actors Daniel Kaluuya (OJ), and Keke Palmer (Emerald Haywood). Their sibling relationship felt real and authentic, and at the very least was something relatable. Emerald is full of energy and passion, and at first seems like a good friend to hang out with, while OJ is a very broken man after the loss of his father Otis Sr. (Keith David). He’s mourning the whole film but still tries to manage the everyday stresses of life. What’s respectable about OJ is maintaining his father’s legacy no matter the cost even if there’s an alien invasion. He seems like a man that’s willing to die for a worthy cause, but not ready at the same time. OJ could easily be considered a fan favorite as he navigates the terrain with caution. Unfortunately, I’m not as enthusiastic about Emerald going into the second act. She had some false sense of confidence and started to not come across as authentic as her brother, especially when using profanity. However, her performance was still great, and she excelled in that area by far towards the end.
On a technical level, Nope passes the bar with flying colors. Director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema (Tenet, Insterstellar, Dunkirk) has a number of captivating takes taking advantage of the IMAX camera aspect ratio. It is recommended that you see this film on the biggest screen possible for it to be worth your while. One scene in particular with one character riding a bike in the desert is what we go to the movies for. To be blown away, and this was it.
The film also has a great sense of mystery and suspense to it. Whether a threat is in the sky or around the corner on the ground, your blood pressure will raise as you’re waiting for something to pop out and frighten you. It doesn’t waste too much time to address the elephant in the room that there are aliens among us, and they’re not our friends. However, while that’s introduced early, the first half of the film is rather boring with a slow-moving pace. How it was all edited in chapter form also doesn’t help. It’s so distracting and jarring when the scene cuts to black with a giant title card about what’s about to happen next. This is unnecessary and ruins the passing of the project.
The film comes in at 2 hours and 15 minutes which is also too long. There’s a subplot that’s dealing with Steven Yeun’s character, Ricky, that doesn’t do a great job of connecting to the overall story. Of course, there is a dual meaning to this scene, but the film doesn’t connect the dots on how it can help the characters’ overall arc in development. It was brutal and will be remembered forever, but doesn’t hold that much weight in the overall narrative.
The third act is by far the best part of the film, where mostly everything comes around full circle. That boring feeling from the first half of the film has ceased, and you’re eager to see how it will all play out. It’s a guessing game of who will live or die, and that aspect of not knowing is exhilarating. The design of the alien is unique, and not entirely what you think it would be from your first glance, but it’s all entertaining at the very least. Just make sure you pay attention to all the details to make the best of your experience.
Jordan Peele is still a talented filmmaker in my opinion even if this last film isn’t as great as his first. It will be very difficult to top that. So expectations need to be checked at the door. However, he still needs to work on delivering what’s promised in his marketing. With his last two bouts he struggled to do so, possibly leaving his audience members confused when the credits hit and full of questions. While the third was fun and picked up from the beginning I was still left wanting more and not fully satisfied.