By: Brendan Graham
“What do you call a bad miracle?”
When the marketing started for Jordan Peele’s NOPE, we had no idea what we were in for, but the internet quickly went to work. They paused the trailer frame by frame, studied the movements of the clouds, what characters were doing and looking at, and also tried to study the imagery to come up with a theory. That theory was aliens. Jordan Peele was making a movie about aliens.
When Universal released the final trailer, there was a bit of an uproar. Did it show too much? Did it ruin the mystery of what NOPE was going to bring to the screen? I am pleased to tell you the trailer didn’t spoil the movie, in fact, it plays some tricks on you instead, and takes you on one hell of a ride.
Brother and sister OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) are struggling to run the family business after their father Otis (Keith David) is killed in a freak accident. Trying to keep the business afloat, OJ has been pawning the horses from the ranch, with full intent to buy them back of course, to an "Old West"-style off-road attraction called Jupiter’s Claim, owned by the eccentric former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun).
One evening when OJ attempts to calm down a horse that’s been spooked by something, he catches a glimpse of a large object flying through the clouds. When he reports what he saw to his sister, they decide they want to catch this thing on video, and that selling the footage is their ticket to saving the family business. After loading up on supplies, and having them installed by an overly curious employee named Angel (Brandon Perea), they proceed to try to lure the craft out so they can get their candid footage. But they quickly realize that it’s not what they think it is, and it proves to be incredibly dangerous.
NOPE juggles quite a few elements throughout the film; elements of horror, science fiction, and even comedy. This movie is incredibly witty, and knows when to play those cards to cut through some tension. The film also knows when you’ve let your guard down to have a few chuckles, before it startles you back to attention. That expert balance of intensity and fun is just one of Jordan Peele’s directorial calling cards. There’s a real love of the craft on display here, from the nods to other films in the genre to the playfully scathing critiques of the film industry, it all intermingles wonderfully together. Just like in Get Out and Us, Peele does have something to say about the subject of race in relation to Hollywood, and while it’s more playful in nature here, it’s just as impactful.
The cast is superb, Kaluuya and Palmer have an on-screen chemistry that is undeniable. Yeun is charmingly dorky in his cowboy attire, and is convincingly clueless. Perea adds his own brand of humor to the goofy retail employee. The cinematography is gorgeous, and awe-inspiring at times, and can quickly add to the intoxicating feeling of anxiety, as both the characters and the audience look to the sky for what will happen next.
I also applaud the score and sound design - scenes go from light-hearted scores to absolutely disturbing soundscapes, to even more disturbing sequences of silence. NOPE may not be Peele’s scariest movie, but there are several sequences that genuinely shook me to my core, and in ways, I honestly didn’t expect. To say anything more would get into spoiler territory, but when the movie decides to venture beyond playful curiosity, and go for the jugular, you better hold on to your seats, folks.
NOPE isn’t perfect. In fact, I feel like it might be Peele's most divisive feature, and not everyone is going to enjoy it as much as I did. Its pacing style is a bit unusual compared to other features by Peele, with chunks of the film separated by title cards, usually relating to the names of the horses. Sometimes scenes end so abruptly, that it’s a bit frustrating. NOPE absolutely nails the first two acts, but it doesn't keep as firm a grasp on you in the third. The story gets a bit disjointed, and doesn’t connect all of the dots, and that may leave viewers feeling underwhelmed.
As far as the UFO is concerned, you might not find it as scary once it reaches the final sequence, but I still thought it looked pretty cool. Be cautious of spoilers, because a lot of the power of the film comes with knowing very little, and I fear that the internet isn’t going to be kind to movie lovers who want to go in fresh to the experience.
NOPE still delivers the summertime thrill ride I’ve been looking for. There is so much I would want to talk about, things that surprised me, or just how the trailer messes with you with scenes out of context - but it's best to keep this discussion to a minimum. This film is an assault on the senses, while still bringing the heart and humor present in Peele’s other works. It’s visually stunning, well acted, and has an incredible sound design. Go in knowing as little as possible, maybe lower your expectations a little, and prepare yourself for an experience that you’ll be thinking about long after the credits roll. I give a big "Yup" to NOPE.
NOPE is now playing at a theater near you. And you can check out the Jupiter's Claim set for yourself on the Universal Studios Hollywood Backlot Tour - starting today! [See photos from our visit below!]