It probably would have been easy enough for someone as talented and clever as writer-director Jordan Peele to crank out a few spiritual sequels to his brilliant horror-thriller Get Out. After all, he seems fluent in the Twilight Zone rhythms that could inform a series of genre-tinged parables about ‘how we live now’. So it’s been all the more impressive to see Peele move in stranger, less obvious directions, first with the dreamlike Us and now with the somewhat less obtuse but still wholly original Nope. It doesn’t ruin too much about the new movie to call it Peele’s take on alien-invasion pictures such as M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs or Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. These are movies with an intimate, ground-level view of spectacular sights, through the eyes of just a few characters.
Yet there is also spectacle in Nope – even when it’s seen outside of eye-popping IMAX format. Spectacle is very much what Peele’s movie is about: The peculiar and undeniable human instinct to fix our eyes upon horror, tragedy, and untamed nature. OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) have caught glimpses of all three, first as part of their family’s Hollywood horse-training business, and then as their father Otis (Keith David) is killed by a coin falling from the sky amid a bunch of other mysterious debris.
Months later, some initially unseen force lurks around their ranch, stealing their horses, and though OJ cuts a handsome cowboy figure, they’re not dealing with traditional western villains. There’s something out there in the wide-open skies, and the siblings decide to capture it on camera. This project attracts the interest of a UFO-obsessed techie (Brandon Perea) and a flinty cinematographer (Michael Wincott).
Exactly how this quartet goes about their task, what they find, and how it connects (thematically, if not literally) to a local sorta-celebrity – a former child star named Ricky Park (Steven Yuen) who survived a gruesome scene on a sitcom set back in the ’90s – should be left to the viewer to discover. Peele moves through his story sinuously, aided by complementary lead performances: Kaluuya plays it gracefully, while Palmer toys with overacting before unveiling a more nuanced turn. There’s something pleasingly off-kilter about the way Nope hops between genres. It’s often very funny, but not exactly a comedy; it induces shivers of fear without tilting all the way into horror – and Peele remains especially adept at bending one genre backward until it flips unexpectedly into another.
From the movie’s unpredictability, patterns and motifs emerge; something as simple as the one-word title becomes part mantra, part running joke, part time-keeping metronome. It turns out that Peele’s background as a sketch comedian doesn’t just make him aware of certain genre tropes, or able to inject humour into tense situations (though both of those things are true). At times, he seems to imply that comedy and horror are both ways of processing the perverse mysteries of the world—and looking at things we shouldn’t be looking at. This also makes Nope a film that rewards repeat watching.
- Director: Jordan Peele
- Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun
- Release date: August 12 (UK cinemas)