After breaking out with the Oscar-winning Get Out, comedian-turned-horror auteur Jordan Peele has proven to be more than a one-hit wonder, following it up with the eerie doppelganger thriller Us and now with his take on the alien invasion movie, Nope. It’s an interesting coincidence that M. Night Shyamalan also tackled the extraterrestrial subgenre 2 movies after receiving Academy Award nominations for The Sixth Sense, especially since horror movies so rarely receive any attention from the Academy to begin with. While Shyamalan’s Signs is a lot of fun and contains a few memorably creepy scenes, it is ultimately let down by his need to insert a twist into nearly every movie he makes. Nope has no such problems and is all the better for it.
On a seemingly ordinary day, Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) is working his horse ranch along with son Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) when the pair hear the sound of screams echoing through the valley from somewhere above them. Then, despite there being only a few clouds in the sky, a variety of small objects begins to rain down around them, and a nickel pierces Otis Sr.’s eye, leading to his death.
Half a year later, OJ and his sister Emerald “Em” Haywood (Keke Palmer) are at a commercial taping with renowned cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) when their horse Lucky has a bad reaction to some of the crew and equipment, getting them fired and the horse replaced with CGI whic only compounds the ranch’s financial problems. These issues have led OJ to sell several of the horses to Jupiter’s Claim, a neighboring Western-themed amusement park owned by one-time child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), who is masking his own lingering trauma from a violent, on-set animal incident that ended his hit sitcom decades ago. Jupe ultimately makes an offer to purchase the Haywoods’ entire ranch, but OJ is reluctant to accept.
One night, OJ and Em are sharing some drinks and discussing their father when their power starts to fluctuate and the horses become frightened. When he goes outside to investigate, OJ catches a glimpse of a flying saucer, and deduces that it is likely what caused his father’s death. Em believes that if they can capture it on video when it returns they can potentially garner a profit and so the pair wire cameras around their property with the assistance of Fry’s Electronics salesman Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), who suspects they are onto something and tries to insert himself into their project.
Saying anything more would be giving too much away, and while there aren’t really any major twists, it still is one of the most unique takes on this sort of material I can recall seeing and definitely winds up being a different sort of movie than I initially thought. As usual for Peele everything is put together flawlessly, with endearing and believable characters, great use of music, stunning cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema that is smartly used to amp up the mystery and tension, and some of the most memorable sequences of any horror film in recent memory. Peele has smartly assembled a spectacle that itself comments on our addiction to such and how exploitative they can be. Likewise, there are themes suggesting that we often overestimate our own dominance over nature, very much at our own peril. It never beats the viewer over the head with any of this though, instead content to make us jump in our seats and draw our own conclusions… and maybe making sure that we never look at clouds quite the same way again. ★★★★★
rated r for language throughout, and some violence / bloody images.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor