Sarah Kirk says Jordan Peele’s Nope is a captivating, anxiety-ridden, predator versus prey sci-fi horror experience.
Ever wonder if alien life is out there? You’re not alone. Nope explores alien life with bursts of terror, humor, and tension hailing the screen. Jordan Peele does it again with his third directorial feature in the horror genre. Nope is an obvious example of Peele’s talent, demonstrating his ability to frighten audiences and emote a kind of responsiveness that inspires many discussions.
While some believe Nope isn’t scary enough or doesn’t fit within the horror genre because it leans into suspense and comedy rather than predictable jump scares, I say differently. A ravening alien creature, spooked horses, and a killer chimpanzee amount to a horror film. Nope is a combination of exhilaration and nail-biting anxiety. Peele utilizes the talents of Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer to create a gripping story eliciting fear and an affinity for the unknown.
We meet OJ Haywood (Kaluuya) and his father, Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David), as objects start falling from the sky. Following their father’s death, OJ and his sister Emerald (Palmer) are left to pick up the family business training horses. Down on their luck, the siblings and their new friend Angel (Brandon Perea) discover signs of a strange flying object inhabiting their ranch and form a plan to film the UFO. They work together to get "the Oprah shot," as Emerald calls it, hoping to capture evidence they can sell to save their horse ranch. Emerald, OJ, Angel, and egocentric filmmaker Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) band together to capture the impossible. OJ and Emerald start seeing a strange flying object lurking over their ranch, forming a plan to film the UFO.
After working with Peele on Get Out (2017), Kaluuya steps into the character of OJ wholly, providing a captivating performance and ability to hold the audience's interest. Kaluuya captures OJ’s sense of determination and fearlessness in the face of danger. OJ isn’t a chatty individual. Now and then, he speaks curtly, yet Kaluuya portrays his varying emotions with attention to physicality. Kaluuya’s facial expressions and use of body language are excellent. In a Vanity Fair article published in July, Peele comments, “One of the things I admire most about him is his powerful stillness. Nobody else has it. He doesn’t need words to communicate his thoughts or emotions. In the scariest and quietest moments, you know exactly what he’s feeling and experiencing just by looking at him, and that’s so powerful. His big eyes, his body language—he brings so much emotion.”
Palmer and her energetic charisma as Emerald were hilarious due to the contrast of the siblings' personalities, even though, deep down, it’s clear they would do anything for each other. OJ is the favored character, and Kaluuya is gripping to watch, particularly during intense moments where he’s faced with danger. Kaluuya is emphatic, especially in Nope, as OJ gallops on his mighty steed, ready to fight an alien creature looming in the sky and demolish anything that stands in its way.
There’s been debate about whether Nope has a deeper meaning beyond being a fun, scary, alien movie. Peele’s films are open to interpretation. He’s created a unique film highlighting the human experience and humanity’s innate desire to seek out the unknown while touching on the widespread obsession with capturing proof of alien life. Our inclination to debunk or discover evidence of myths and legends is exciting and leans into our natural curiosity.
Peele has stated that he wanted to make a film based on the cultural obsession with UFOs, “the great American UFO story.” He’s also said, “the movie itself deals with spectacle and the good and the bad that comes from this idea of attention. It’s a horror epic, but it has some points in it that are meant to elicit a very audible reaction in the theater.” Peele plays on the human emotion of fear, curiosity, and the doomed belief in indestructibility, bringing to life the disbelief and terror we feel when watching Nope on the big screen.
Nope is surprising, anxiety-inducing, and downright entertaining. It can be interpreted as a surface-level alien film or something more profound. Peele gives audiences an intense daytime horror story, leaving us to catch glimpses of the creature in the dark. The film leaves us looking to the skies with a sense of paranoia and questioning what life exists beyond the world we know.
Nope is currently in theaters and will be available on digital on-demand on August 26, 2022.