Skip to content

NOPE (2022) review

July 21, 2022


written by: Jordan Peele
produced by: Jordan Peele and Ian Cooper
directed by: Jordan Peele
rated: R (for language throughout and some violence/bloody images)
runtime: 135 min.
U.S. release date: July 22, 2022


Writer/director Jordan Peele’s Oscar-nominated feature debut “Get Out” back in 2017 was a hit with audiences (and most critics), but then many of those viewers were upset when his follow up “Us” in 2019 wasn’t more of the same. Audiences can be so fickle. His response to all that noise is “Nope” a movie designed to be a summer blockbuster hit at a time when such a goal is no sure thing. When a filmmaker has clearly established a unique and different presence in cinema – specifically in the horror genre as Peel arguably has – the only thing viewers should hope for (not “expect”) is something unique and different with each project.

Like those last two movies, “Nope” does a balancing act of delivering some shocking and thrilling moments while sprinkling in a sufficient amount of clever and witty moments that get us to squirm, chuckle, and think. Throughout most of the movie though, viewers will find themselves leaning in a little closer and studying what they’re seeing on the big screen as the story unfolds. When a movie elicits such a response, that’s always a good sign – even if it’s during head-scratching moments that we can’t quite figure out.



The story that Peele provides here revolves around Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) and his younger sister, Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer), both of whom now run the family business, located on a ranch in a gulch just north of Los Angeles, after their father, Otis Haywood Sr. (the great but all too brief, Keith David) mysteriously and suddenly died six months ago. Laconic OJ does all the physical work at Haywood Hollywood Horses – a black-owned horse wrangling business that works on television and movie sets and has an ancestral link to Eadweard Muybridge’s “A Horse in Motion” (which featured a black jockey riding a horse) – while Emerald is the exuberant marketing voice that pitches the company to prospective clients.
They may be very different from each other and sometimes frustrate each other, but it’s clear they need each other.

Visible from their Agua Dulce ranch and down the way a bit is a Western fairground run by a family headed by Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star from a fictional 1990’s television sitcom. Jupe has become something of a business rival for OJ, having bought many of Haywood’s horses since their business is struggling (likely because most animals in show business are CGI where they can be controlled, unlike the unpredictability of a live creature), but he’s also warm and friendly and is open to possibly selling some of the horses back to the Haywoods.



There’s also a sadness that haunts Jupe that ties to a backstory that Peele tells in a haunting cold open, one that is revisiting from different perspectives as “Nope” unfolds. That sitcom Jupe starred in become known for a horrific tragedy that involved his costar, a chimpanzee named Gordy (portrayed by MoCap performer extraordinaire Terry Notary) who went bananas on set during the filming of an episode. That event has marred Jupe’s life and stayed with him, but he’s tried to make the most of it. He created a specific room at the fairground, solely dedicated to the show and Gordy, charging admission to curious fans. Jupe is also aware of another way to make some money and that involves looking upward at the sky.

It’s a phenomenon that Otis becomes acutely aware of as well when he notices a silver disc floating in the clouds above his ranch. It happened so fast, was it real? Could it have just been a trick of the light? The clouds messing with him? Well, as it turns out, one particular cloud right above the mountain range at the edge of the horizon doesn’t seem to move – in fact, it hasn’t moved for months. OJ figures that if this is indeed a UFO, then he and Emerald need to figure out a way to capture it on film and make some money capturing something no one has ever seen before. With Emerald and unsolicited assistance from Angel (a hilariously understated Brandon Perea) an expert from Fry’s Electronics who installs surveillance camera equipment, and eventually local cinematographer Antlers Holst (a welcome Michael Wincott) hell bent on capturing “the impossible shot”, OJ sets out to document this thing that’s floating in the air. OJ and Emerald hope to get what the call “the Oprah shot”, hoping to be the first to capture the extraterrestrial spectacle.



A spectacle is exactly what Peele is focusing on here as he opens the film with a Bible verse from Nahum 3:6, “I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.” Exactly who is making who a spectacle in “Nope” isn’t necessarily the question or the focus, but moreso how we as humans treat and embrace events that are considered spectacles. Spectacles draw our attention, whether it’s the dancing inflatable things that used car dealers prop up (which Peele employs here) or when tragedy is made a spectacle (like that special room Jupe has that pays tribute to his tragic past), and we search for ways to capture them and hold on to them somehow for some reason. That’s a roundabout way of describing what’s going on in “Nope”, but to say much more would be to rob you of experiencing the spectacle that Peele and his talented cast and crew has crafted.

Because of what he offered us in his previous movies, people will go into a Jordan Peele movie looking for some kind of social commentary and because there’s nothing overtly present along those lines in “Nope”, they will likely be disappointed. In fact, many will be outright frustrated with the viewing experience. Admittedly, I was a bit flummoxed by the ending and some other elements, wondering if and how it culminated in some kind of synchronicity that only Peele is aware of. But, the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t care, since the cast is so much fun to watch, especially the great sibling dynamic between Kaluuya and Palmer.



The title of Peele’s third feature is appropriate and often repeated by his two leads, played by Kaluuya and Palmer. It’s a phrase we also often hear in movie theaters shouted out at the screen when we see scary movies, an exclamation that the viewer isn’t having it and neither should the story’s characters. It’s also quite a bold title, considering it’s a set-up for those who don’t like “Nope” – and there will be critics and moviegoers alike who will have problems with it, especially the third act.

The less you know about “Nope” going in the better off you’ll be. I can tell you the way in which this extraterrestrial of the sky is designed is wholly unique and that Peele’s cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (no stranger to otherworldly images, having lensed “Interstellar” and “Ad Astra”) is capturing what we see in the valley and up in the sky (using Kodak film, including 65mm film in IMAX format) in a most wondrous and frightening manner – even more impressive is that much of the horrifying action occurs during the day when so many other movies use night to mask (or compensate for) what is out there. The camerawork is often reaching upward and studying the sky, asking us, at times daring us, to be diligent observers. It’s hard not to comply.

For so long, summer moviegoing has consisted of big-budget franchise entries, giving viewers a different branding of something they are familiar with. “Nope” is refreshing in that it’s none of that. It’s paying homage to certain genre films that have come before it (I would liken what Peele is doing to the works of Spielberg or Villeneuve), but it’s also saying something. Trying to figure out what it’s trying to say may be frustrating, but I had fun wrestling with all that. It will be interesting to see how this will be received.

“Nope” is definitely unlike anything Peele has done before and it’s also not just an update to a flying saucer movie. If it has anything to do with his previous two movies, it’s that it revolves around characters that provide a Black experience and you will certainly find yourself thinking about it and discussing it with others long after viewing. Not only does “Nope” have a lingering quality about it, there’s also a gnawing feeling that we should consider and reconsider what we just saw.



RATING: ***1/2



No comments yet

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: