Excelling at genre movies is a tricky thing to pull off consistently.
When a filmmaker becomes known for creating original, inventive content in a similar space, it becomes easy or derivative to praise them unabashedly as the next Spielberg or Hitchcock; or to go too far the other way, suggesting that their work isn’t as good as prior films and dismissing it outright.
Things are somewhere in the middle for Jordan Peele, a terrific comedy writer/actor in his own right who seemed to come into his own directorially with his Oscar-winning blend of drama, horror and comedy in 2017’s Get Out. His sophomore feature, Us, followed up with a critically acclaimed take on the body double subgenre in horror that lacked the same commercial appeal but kept the filmmaker firmly in the conversation for most anticipated future projects.
Peele’s third directorial effort leans less into dark horror and is perhaps his most accessible film to date, blending science fiction with summer blockbuster to thrill and chill audiences with a visually dynamic, genre-bending tale that makes up for a confusing and lackluster narrative by providing unmistakably brilliant cinematic moments.
Nope follows brother-sister duo Otis Jr. and Emerald as they run their family Hollywood horse-wrangling business after the mysterious and untimely death of their father. Strange occurrences in the sky months after his death prompt the pair to investigate alongside a bumbling electronics salesman and reclusive cinematographer.
The narrative twists and turns of Nope aren’t as dynamic as Peele’s other features – he won an Academy Award in 2018 for the Get Out screenplay – but what truly gives his movies, including Nope, life is the terrific performances he’s able to draw from every cast member in his films.
After a star-making turn in Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya reteams with Peele for a much less showy, but nonetheless tonally perfect turn as Otis Jr. Kaluuya melds the character’s general aversion to outsiders with deep family bonds and a blue-collar work ethic for a gruff, yet relatable protagonist that audiences can rally behind.
Kaluuya’s more subdued work allows for Keke Palmer to break out in a major way as the bombastic, sarcastic Emerald. Palmer is exceptionally expressive both in tone and with her facial expressions that perfectly capture the incredulous nature of the moment. Adding Brandon Perea’s quirky Angel into the mix midway through the second act really makes the narrative more engaging as well.
Thought the film lacks a traditional antagonist, Minari star Steven Yeun gives Nope a deeper layer of social commentary with a charming, yet somewhat underhanded turn as a former child star turned theme park owner living at the ranch adjacent to Otis and Emerald.
Nope has a ton of impressive, memorable moments throughout and it’s clear that Peele has a clear vision for the project from early development onward.
But it’s in the visuals and non-verbal moments – those created in the director’s chair rather than on paper – where Nope really hits its stride.
This is large part thanks to a strong collaborative effort between Peele and director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema, a frequent cinematographer for director Christopher Nolan.
Nope is Peele’s first foray into shooting with film instead of digitally and Hoytema does a masterful job of making the movie’s seven night sequences both menacing and layered in shadows. Conversely, bright daytime shots give the added sensation of a blistering desert heat with wide panoramas that accentuate the emptiness of the surroundings as well as the height and depth of the action taking place.
While it’s unlikely to be as lauded as Get Out was come awards season, Peele’s film does have a solid shot in some technical categories, especially for the sound work.
The less audiences know and the more open minded they are heading into a screening of Nope, the greater the opportunity they will have to become captivated by the quality cinema Peele presents over two hours despite its narrative flaws.
A terrific ensemble cast paired with exceptional technical wizardry make Nope the premiere popcorn blockbuster of the summer and the last must-see box office hit in theaters before September.