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Nope Review: An End To Jordan Peele’s Win Streak? Check The Title

[I]t’s a big screen experience that is as clever and fun as it is arrhythmia-inducing and stunning.

Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Brandon Perea in Nope
(Image: © Universal Pictures)

With his first two movies, 2017’s Get Out and 2019’s Us, Jordan Peele proved three things about himself as a filmmaker: he is a brilliant storyteller; he has a remarkable eye demonstrated in his collaborations with his cinematographers and editors; and he is a master of mise-en-scène. Peele’s works are gripping, well-paced, and visually stunning, and the all of the details captured in each frame are layered and fascinating. His films are meant to be watched repeatedly, because every time you can appreciate choices and moments you previously missed.

There is no arguing that Jordan Peele has made one of the most remarkable splashes in the movie world since the start of the 21st century… and yet, a certain level of trepidation is understandable in anticipation of his latest film. They say that two times is a coincidence, and only three times is a pattern – and his latest happens to be the first project he’s made that began gestating in the wake of his directorial debut (Us was an idea that was percolating since Peele was a teenager). After pivoting from comedy to his new career and making such an auspicious and phenomenal impact, surely his third movie would underwhelm and disappoint, right?

Nope.

Jordan Peele’s latest feature is certainly a different flavor of horror than his previous two endeavors in terms of aesthetic, themes, and scale, but it is no less thrilling, captivating and awe-inspiring. Nope is a spectacle that puts the modern notion of spectacle under a microscope, and with the Spielbergian DNA of Jaws and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in its blood, it’s a big screen experience that is as clever and fun as it is arrhythmia-inducing and stunning.

Nope’s protagonists are the brother sister duo of OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) – the owners of Haywood Hollywood Horses, a ranch north of Los Angeles that rents horses to movie and television productions. Six months after the mysterious death of their father (Keith David), the company is in trouble, and it’s in large part because of OJ’s lack of charisma and Emerald’s overabundance. While trying to stay afloat, they have to sell horses to nearby tourist trap Jupiter’s Claim, owned by former child star Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun), but they are unwilling to give up on their family’s legacy.

That’s a tricky set of circumstances all by itself, but further complicating things is a horrible and dangerous discovery that OJ and Emerald make looking into the sky above their ranch. What they see poses and an extreme threat to their lives and remains a persistent menace, but the siblings also see a potential in it to change their lives, and they enlist the help of a listless-but-curious Fry Electronics employee named Angel (Brandon Perea) to help them in their quest.

Jordan Peele gives Nope strong core themes that never distract from the big thrills and scares.

In establishing his voice as a filmmaker, Jordan Peele has shown that everything is deliberate in his style and every decision has extra meanings beyond the surface level – and understanding that going into Nope only makes the experience more engaging and satisfying. Watching the movie is an intellectual exercise that is both challenging and exciting, as you watch every scene both absorbing the story and processing everything as it relates to what the writer/director is trying to say about the wonders of our world and how people engage with them.

This is mesmerizing simply when we’re following the adventure of OJ and Emerald, but it hits another level when executing what seem like non-sequiturs in the moment, and creating mysteries that aren’t given specific answers before the end of the runtime. After seeing the film, audiences everywhere will start debating and examining the horrifying history of the fictional 1990s sitcom Gordy’s Home and that bizarre freestanding shoe… but that’s all I’ll say about that at this spoiler-free juncture.

Of course, it should be emphasized that Nope isn’t just cinematic homework. The layers are present for audiences to fold back and study, but Jordan Peele’s mission first and foremost is to thrill and entertain, and it’s a marvelous achievement. The scares that are crafted are of a completely different nature than what’s in either Get Out or Us, but they are no less successful at dropping jaws, making one unconsciously stop breathing, or flail one’s limbs in shock. This isn’t the proper forum to dig far into its use of its specific use of subgenre, as that would be too telling, but movie-goers will be both surprised and gratified.

Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya are a brilliant pair in Nope, with Brandon Perea, Steven Yuen, and Michael Wincott delivering excellent turns as well.

The remarkable work that is done by Jordan Peele and the filmmakers behind the camera in Nope is matched by tremendous work that is done in front of it, with the two stars leading the way with their terrific contrasting-but-complementary energies. Daniel Kaluuya’s OJ is miles away from Get Out’s Chris Washington, with the character possessing a Clint Eastwood-esque, straight-faced stoicism. But in the role he exudes awesome gravitas and powerful authority that is compelling as he digs into the mystery narrative. It’s not an expressive performance, but it is a deep and emotional one, and he gets to work as a terrific straight man as well.

Getting to play off that personality is Keke Palmer’s Emerald, who is electric. Her spark makes you smile every time she shows up on screen, and that’s in large part because she has chemistry with every single person with whom she engages. What’s more, she clicks with everyone in a different but realistic way. Emerald and OJ are on opposite ends of the personality spectrum, but it’s part of the wonderful authenticity in their siblinghood. The closeness between the characters is special, and it’s distinct from her other relationships, but she has a way of connecting with everyone – whether she is having a bit of a fan moment when she meets Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park, slowly accepting the help of Angel, or expressing admiration toward legendary cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott).

The supporting cast of Nope gives as good as it gets, as everyone delivers a memorable turn that serves the magic that is the entirety of the film. As Jupe, Steven Yeun projects charm and confidence, but there is also an excellent “this guy isn’t totally ok” subtly that plays behind his eyes. Brandon Perea has a great interpretation of the classic clerk character, disengagement evolving into curiosity and then utter terror, and Michael Wincott ultimately makes for a perfect 21st century version of Robert Shaw’s Quint.

Nope has some impressive secrets to unfurl, and you should experience them all first hand on the biggest screen that you can find.

An overt attempt has been made in the development of this film to keep mysteries intact and save secrets for the big screen, and I will add that it’s been a worthy effort. The revelations that the movie is keeping held under wraps are of the variety that make audiences helplessly grin from ear to ear, as in the moment you realize that Jordan Peele’s Nope is unlike anything you’ve seen before. It’s a special experience to be had on the biggest screen available (which, fortunately, IMAX provides) and it’s one to which everyone should rush.

Eric Eisenberg
Eric Eisenberg

NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.