The following review contains heavy spoilers for Nope. For our spoiler-free review, click here.
I don’t envy being Jordan Peele. After his Oscar-winning Get Out and the majorly successful Us, many have propped him up as “the next Spielberg”, “the next Shyamalan”, “the next Kubrick”; you get the picture. It’s an unfair amount of pressure to put on anyone, yet Peele perseveres. His third film, Nope, is as wildly ambitious as it is original. One of the big hallmarks of Peele’s filmography thus far is the layered storytelling, and this applies yet again to Nope. For it is at once a creature feature, a celebration of the spirit of filmmaking, and a condemnation of the cinema industrial complex, and we’re going to talk about all of those aspects.
You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Ranch
Out of all the comparisons people have made with Nope, one sticks out the most: Jaws. To some degree, Nope might as well be a remake of sorts. A ragtag crew made up of Hollywood horse trainer OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya), his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), a disgruntled AV tech Angel (Brandon Perea), and famed cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) banned together to capture (images of) a giant extraterrestrial creature on Haywood Ranch. Though not 1:1, the plotline pretty closely captures the wild hunt of Spielberg’s classic. More directly, Antlers is a dead ringer for Quint.
Moreover, Peele adopts that film’s “less is more” approach when it comes to showing the central extraterrestrial. Throughout the film, the audience is slowly fed brief glimpses of the creature. Most commonly its appearance takes on the shape of a traditional UFO, seen in fits and starts. During the most brutally terrifying sequence I’ve seen in years, where the creature abducts the patrons of neighboring theme park “Jupiter’s Claim”, it reveals its innards to be reminiscent of a giant inflatable. We get more looks at this creature until we see its final form: a gigantic, constantly transforming, almost plastic-y piece of artificial terror.
Another huge part of what makes the film a good creature feature AND Jaws riff is prioritizing the how of the creature rather than the what. Over the course of the movie, Peele lays out a series of rules for the creature. Number one: don’t look at it. Next: animals – horses in this case – can be sacrifices to it. And finally: artificial material harms it. All of this comes to a head in the grand finale, where – not looking at the creature – Emerald releases a giant balloon from Jupiter’s Claim, causing the creature to try to digest it only to explode. The pieces all come together for such a thrilling finale because the filmmakers establish how the creature works. Just like Jaws, part of the pleasure of Nope is seeing a crew fight tooth and nail for a successful hunt.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Even from just watching a random episode of Key & Peele, one thing is apparent about Jordan Peele: the man loves movies. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Nope. The Haywood family are direct descendants of the very first man ever captured on camera. The owner of the neighboring amusement park, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) is a former child star. And most of all, the group trying to get their “Oprah shot” resemble a crew of below-the-line film workers. They’re a motley bunch of clashing personalities.
Conversely, they’re in a situation where things go wrong all the time and they must readjust. The cinematographer is a soft-spoken enigma who might be a genius or just wasting everyone’s time. But there’s one constant. No matter what, this crew will band together to get that perfect shot. By the end, the majority of the crew is bruised, discombobulated, and have resorted to taking their shot out of an attraction modeled after an old-timey well, but they’re still alive and proud of the work. Save, of course, for Antlers, who sacrifices himself to get a shot at Golden Hour. If that doesn’t summarize what it feels like to work on a movie, then I don’t know what does. It doesn’t hurt that Peele throws in a rad homage to the Akira bike slide with Emerald taking on the role of Kaneda.
The Dark Side of the Silver Screen
Nope isn’t all loving reverence for the movies. Throughout the film, the dark shadow of the sins of media’s past pervades. Despite being linked to the man in the first series of moving images ever made, the Haywood family is left in relative obscurity. OJ and Emerald’s father (Keith David) passes away early on in the film, and on set all anyone can talk about is their father’s tragic passing. The entertainment industry feeds off salacious stories and tragedy to sustain itself, as the audience watches.
No one knows this better than Jupe. Jupe, the former child star of the hit sitcom Gordy’s Home, endured an unspeakable trauma when his chimpanzee co-star brutally attacked the cast and crew. Running his own theme park, he survives the only way he knows how: commodifying that trauma to turn a profit. As he states, a couple even paid fifty thousand to stay in the cage that Gordy called home at one point. He suppresses the reality of what happened to him, but he can’t hide forever. Eventually, the leering eye of the viewer comes for everyone.
The central creature of Nope might as well be a stand-in for the audience. We watch as characters endure conflict for our own amusement. But more importantly, we consume the very lives of the people playing these characters. Entertainment in general is built off of sucking the life out of those caught in the machine. The only option for those stuck therein is to simply say “nope” and turn away.
Jordan Peele’s third directorial effort is one that’s going to be talked about for a long time. Although less easy to immediately decipher than Get Out, it’s a film that stays in the brain far after one has left the theater. In a week, someone else could write an amazing analysis that completely upends/invalidates this one. However, that’s what makes Peele such an exciting filmmaker and Nope such an exciting film. A conversation has been started, and we can only hope you enjoyed reading our contribution. – James Preston Poole
Nope is now playing exclusively in theaters.