There are not many directors who have made such an impact on the movie landscape as Jordan Peele. His first two films, Get Out and Us, have already become regarded as greats of the horror genre, while his latest film, Nope, was one of the year’s most anticipated films. Now it has arrived, has Peele managed to make it three for three? He certainly has.
OJ Haywood and his sister, Ellie, have a stable for horses used in the film and television industry, but since the mysterious death of their father, the stables are struggling. Set in the middle of the deserts, they need money soon; otherwise, they will have to close. Strange things start happening at their home, including a cloud that doesn’t move. Ellie believes there is a money opportunity here as they believe a UFO is hovering in their valley. Yet they don’t know whether they are friendly or a threat to their lives.
Peele’s film channels the spectacle of Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind while imprinting his distinctive style. This is definitely a Jordon Peele film. Brimming with subplots and topics interweaving with the story’s main thread, Peele has delivered another unique and intelligent slice of genre cinema that also manages to slip outside of a set genre.
Starting with a shocking sequence involving a chimpanzee, Peele leaves us wondering what this is to do with the rest of the film until about halfway through. As part of one of his topics, the handling and exploitation of animals in Hollywood, this scene becomes the basis of a backstory for one of the characters, a former child star, Ricky Park, who owns a nearby amusement park and is more than a little creepy.
Peele has a skill in managing tension and atmosphere. Throughout this film, there is an air of increasing terror as OJ and Ellie watch the skies, unable to work out if they are safe or in danger. The director’s craft is that he never feels the need to rush. Instead, he allows time for us to grow to understand the characters, their relationship and the whole situation. We slowly learn about the siblings’ chalk and cheese characterisations; OJ is quiet and often aloof, while Ellie is loud and self-promoting, a product of the selfie generation. As with all good horrors, our understanding of the characters often makes the film scary.
When the story starts to unravel, Peele manages to create a set piece that is up there with the best of Spielberg and Hitchcock for suspense and pure terror. Having become immune to most horror scares, one moment had me jumping out of my chair, so kudos to Mr Peele for that.
If there is one criticism of the film, it juggles several balls simultaneously, not all successful, and you feel that some of the subject matters are too much and weigh the film down. One thing it does do is leaves you leaving the cinema with many thoughts. Nothing is straightforward, and you have to work for your money, but it’s such a joy to have a blockbuster that doesn’t do all the heavy lifting.
The performances are all first-rate. Daniel Kaluuya, who was so good in Peele’s first film, Get Out, does a fantastic job as the resigned OJ. You see more in a simple eye reaction than most actors can deliver in a line of dialogue. Complimenting him is Keke Palmer as Ellie, his complete opposite of a sister. She is a firecracker of energy and steals the film from everyone with her infectious performance. Credit also goes to Peele for casting Michael Wincott as cinematographer Antlers Holst. It’s so lovely to see Wincott not playing the villain, and while he only has a few scenes, he commands the screen in each one.
Nope is a must-see in a season of often disappointing films. It cements Jordan Peele as the new master of suspense, and I’m excited to see what he does next. Maybe not as good as his previous work, but it’s still an outstanding piece of cinema. Go but try to keep the heart of the film to yourself. The less you know, the better. Highly recommended.
4 out of 5
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun, Wrenn Schmidt, Keith David
Written by: Jordan Peele
Running Time: 130 mins
Release date: 12th August 2022