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Nope Reviews

This final confrontation is truly a spectacle...

Full Review | Feb 16, 2023

Don't look up

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Jan 30, 2023

Feels like a modern take on a classic sci-fi story that would have made a really fantastic episode of The Twilight Zone.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Jan 10, 2023

film review nope

Jordan Peele's Nope innovatively uses the IMAX format in ways many wouldn't have believed possible to create an inescapably immersive experience.

Full Review | Jan 9, 2023

To say I was horrified isn’t quite the right word, but Nope gave me that queasy, funny feeling only Peele knows how to create.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Jan 6, 2023

There are few experiences more thrilling in cinema these days than watching a Jordan Peele film, and Nope is without question his biggest effort so far in terms of scale and spectacle.

Full Review | Original Score: 9/10 | Jan 3, 2023

Nope continues Peele’s winning streak of smart, surprising, and hugely effective thrillers.

NOPE has ground breaking cinematography and sound design. If seen in theaters or under surround sound, you truly feel like something is out there. Palmer and Kaluuya have great performances, but it was Steve Yeun's character that was most engaging here

Full Review | Original Score: 6.5/10 | Jan 1, 2023

Nope establishes Jordan Peele as an auteur, with a unique perspective in telling stories cinematically! Don’t worry folks, if you think you saw the movie in the final trailers, you don’t know what you’re in for.

Full Review | Original Score: B | Dec 30, 2022

Brandon Perea quickly became one of our favorite new performances of the year thanks to his fantastic comedic timing in Nope...five stars, Angel, five stars.

Full Review | Dec 27, 2022

It's a spectacle about spectacle, and about the gambles we'll take to create it and monetize it. That quest lies at the heart of American culture. Nope suggests it's a quest that might eat us all alive.

Beautiful and terrifying.

Full Review | Original Score: A | Dec 21, 2022

This is a film full of symbolic exhortations, which is as much a part of the goals of science-fiction as it is essential to Peele’s cinematic oeuvre.

Full Review | Original Score: 4 | Dec 20, 2022

If you’re expecting another Get Out or Us, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if given the chance to enjoy it for what it is, then you’ll be saying Nope is dope! That’s a huge yep from me.

Full Review | Original Score: A- | Dec 10, 2022

Closer to the slick visuals of “Get Out” but with a more probing narrative, akin to “Us,” “Nope” is as much an experience as all of Peele’s efforts, with a similarly intriguing premise.

Full Review | Dec 6, 2022

“Nope” is another equally thrilling and smart ride from the rising director, subtly tackling intersecting ideas about “seeing” and “being seen” along the way.

Full Review | Nov 10, 2022

... layering text and subtext so that audiences can choose to engage with either, deriving pleasure from the tale as either a cinematic spectacle or a profound exploration of humanity’s inability ...

Full Review | Original Score: 4.5/5 | Nov 10, 2022

Jordan Peele's latest is ambitious and well made but exhausting and confusing.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Nov 4, 2022

The first hour of Nope is pretty negligible fare with the exception of a flashback to a killer chimpanzee and the wonderful-to-see-again Donna Mills almost getting kicked in the kisser by an upset steed.

Full Review | Nov 2, 2022

Nope is full of fun, freaky, thoughtful re-imaginings of the classic UFO movie loaded with creepy monsters, silly characters, and high-stakes action sequences.

Full Review | Original Score: 8/10 | Nov 2, 2022

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It’s surprising how little information about writer/director Jordan Peele ’s “Nope” has leaked since it was first announced. There have been a few trailers that show what may or may not be the film’s primary threat, and the marketing team has done a very good job with posters of its main cast members looking up at the sky and uttering the film’s title. All that thirst for capitalistic box office gain comes with a price, namely that it builds hype and an audience expectation that may not be met once the finished product is unveiled. This invariably leads to whiny complaints on Twitter and a plethora of think pieces I have no desire to read, even if I didn’t like the movie.  

I’ve always had begrudging respect for a filmmaker who refuses to cater to a viewer’s pre-ordained expectations, even if said viewer is yours truly. It’s why I attend David Lynch movies despite never being a fan of the director’s work. So, I’ve been replaying a throwaway line of dialogue in my head as a potential explanation for how “Nope” is constructed and executed. In response to a pitch for his services, cinematographer Antlers Holst ( Michael Wincott ) tells Emerald Haywood ( Keke Palmer ) that he “makes one movie for them, and one for me.” This is a callback to John Cassavetes ’ philosophy/excuse for appearing in trash—the pay allowed him to finance the movies he wanted to create. 

After the massively entertaining, Oscar-winning calling card of “ Get Out ,” Jordan Peele moved toward a hybrid of audience pleaser and filmmaker’s jones with “ Us .” That film was less blatant and required more work on the audience’s part, which made it fascinating for some and frustrating for others. It was also powered by a career-best performance by Lupita Nyong’o, whose dual role was unshakably strange and multilayered. There is no equivalent performance in “Nope” to anchor viewers, and it’s about three times as messy, but I got the feeling that Holst is Peele’s stand-in, that is, the director is revealing to us through a character that he made this film to amuse and please himself. If that is true, then Holst’s final scene says a lot about his creator; it’s a moment of self-sacrifice in lieu of the perfect camera shot. 

Prior to the pitch for work scene, Holst and Emerald met on the set of a commercial he was shooting. She arrived late to assist her horse-wrangler brother Otis Jr. ( Daniel Kaluuya ) with the animal hired for the ad. That shoot goes awry, but not before Peele drops some breadcrumbs that will lead viewers through the forest he’s built for us to get lost inside. He also includes a nice cameo from nighttime soap opera legend Donna Mills . Speaking of cameos, the opening scene of “Nope” features Keith David as Otis Sr., head of Haywood Hollywood Horses, the family business. The Haywood’s ancestors were the first Black stuntpeople and animal wranglers in Hollywood, going back to the earliest days of movie making. That seems like an extraneous detail, but nothing is truly extra in a Jordan Peele movie.

The rest of the cast features Steven Yuen as Jupe, a barker who runs an alien-based carnival of sorts out in the same middle of nowhere the Haywoods have their ranch, and Angel ( Brandon Perea ), a techie specializing in surveillance equipment he sells out of a Best Buy clone called Fry’s. Jupe is the survivor of a horrific freak accident on a television show that had the first use of a certain type of animal. Angel is hired to install fancy cameras on the Haywood ranch so that Otis and Emerald can be the first to capture “the Oprah shot” of a specific event I won’t reveal. All this focus on being the first to do something! Again, no detail is completely extra in a Jordan Peele movie.

With “Nope,” Peele continues to explore and repeat certain elements of his prior works. Like “Us,” there’s a Bible quote that may be another breadcrumb to follow. This time it’s Nahum 3:6, which says “I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.” There’s also a focus on animals, with horses playing a major role here. Unlike the deer in “Get Out” and the rabbits in “Us,” symbols of creatures being preyed upon, Peele reverses the power dynamic by turning into prey the most dangerous predator of all. There’s also the unusual use of an inanimate object; in “Us” it was scissors, in “Nope” it’s a fake horse and those weird, swaying air-filled things every used car dealer seems to have.

“Nope” is not as good as “Get Out” or “Us,” but it’s definitely Peele’s creepiest movie. He’s always been more Rod Serling than Rob Zombie , and that’s most evident here. There’s humor to be had in the minority characters’ reactions to horror (yes, they say “nope” the way most people would say “oh HELL NAW!”), but the director really leans into Hitchcock’s tenet about suspense vs. surprise. The wait for something awful to happen is always worse than when it does. Additionally, Peele remains a master of misdirection, offering fleeting glimpses of something that’s amiss or keeping the most brutal violence just beyond our view. The sound mix on this is aces, and I’ll never tire of horror movies that center on Black protagonists who are more than just fodder for whatever’s killing everybody.

Peele also gets good performances out of Kaluuya and Palmer, who believably work the sibling angle with all its longstanding grudges, in-jokes and patterns based on who’s older. Wincott wields his wonderful voice as a force of nature. Yuen seems to be off-kilter and the movie’s weak link, but the more I thought about his plotline, the more his performance made sense. I think he’s the film’s biggest breadcrumb in terms of figuring it all out. As for the special effects, they’re interesting, to say the least.

Truth be told, “Nope” reaches a conventional end point that would probably be more satisfying to most audiences had the journey been more tuned to the usual ways these stories are told. After my IMAX screening, there was a smattering of audience applause but I heard lots of grumbling. Call me a sadist if you must, but this is my favorite type of audience reaction. One particularly angry guy behind me on the escalator said “I can’t wait for the critics reviews calling this ‘splendid’!” “Nope” isn’t splendid, but it is pretty damn good. I had a lot of fun trying to figure it out. It’s a puzzle with a few pieces missing; standing back from it, you can still see the picture. But does it give the viewer exactly what they want? See the title.

Available in theaters on July 22nd.

Odie Henderson

Odie Henderson

Odie "Odienator" Henderson has spent over 33 years working in Information Technology. He runs the blogs Big Media Vandalism and Tales of Odienary Madness. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire  here .

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Film credits.

Nope movie poster

Nope (2022)

Rated R for language throughout and some violence/bloody images.

135 minutes

Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood

Keke Palmer as Emerald 'Em' Haywood

Steven Yeun as Ricky 'Jupe' Park

Brandon Perea as Angel Torres

Michael Wincott as Craig

Barbie Ferreira as Nessie

Donna Mills as Bonnie Clayton

Terry Notary as Gordy

Jennifer Lafleur as Phyllis

Keith David as Otis Haywood Sr.


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Critic’s Pick

‘Nope’ Review: Hell Yes

Jordan Peele’s genre-melting third feature stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as brother-and-sister horse wranglers defending the family ranch from an extraterrestrial threat.

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By A.O. Scott

The trailers for Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” one of the most feverishly anticipated movies of the summer, have raised some intriguing questions. Is it a western? A horror film? Science fiction? Satire? Will it fulfill the expectations raised by Peele’s first two mind-bending, zeitgeist-surfing features, “Get Out” and “Us,” or confound them?

I can now report that the answer to all of those questions is: Yup. Which is to say that there are some fascinating internal tensions within the movie, along with impeccably managed suspense, sharp jokes and a beguiling, unnerving atmosphere of all-around weirdness.

“Nope” feels less polemically pointed than “Us” or “Get Out,” more at home in its idiosyncrasies and flights of imagination even as it follows, in the end, a more conventional narrative path. This might be cause for some disappointment, since Peele’s keen dialectical perspective on our collective American pathologies has been a bright spot in an era of franchised corporate wish fulfillment. At the same time, he’s an artist with the freedom and confidence to do whatever he wants to, and one who knows how to challenge audiences without alienating them.

From left, Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Brandon Perea in “Nope,” the latest feature from the director Jordan Peele.

In any case, it would be inaccurate to claim that the social allegory has been scrubbed away: Every genre Peele invokes is a flytrap for social meanings, and you can’t watch this cowboys-and-aliens monster movie without entertaining some deep thoughts about race, ecology, labor and the toxic, enchanting power of modern popular culture.

“Nope” addresses such matters in a mood that feels more ruminant than argumentative. The main target of its critique is also the principal object of its affection, which we might call — using a name that has lately become something of a fighting word — cinema.

Peele’s movie love runs wide and deep. There are sequences here that nod to past masters, from Hitchcock to Spielberg to Shyamalan, and shots that revel in the sheer ecstasy of moviemaking. A sketch-comedy genius before he turned to directing, Peele never takes his performers for granted, giving everyone space to explore quirks and nuances of character. He also shows an appetite, and an impressive knack, for big effects. The climactic scenes aim for — and very nearly achieve — the kind of old-fashioned sublimity that packs wonder, terror and slack-jawed admiration into a single sensation.

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Movies can be scary, enchanting, funny and strange. Sometimes they can be all those things at once. What they never are is innocent. While this movie can fairly be described as Spielbergian, it turns on an emphatic and explicit debunking of Spielberg’s most characteristic visual trope: the awe-struck upward gaze .

“Nope” starts with a cautionary text, drawn from the Old Testament Book of Nahum, which describes God’s threatened punishment on the wicked city of Nineveh: “I will make a spectacle of you.” Our beloved spectacles — like most of the other artifacts of our fallen world — are built on cruelty, exploitation and erasure, and “Nope” is partly about how we incorporate knowledge of that fact into our enjoyment of them. In the first scene, a chimpanzee goes berserk on the set of a sitcom, a moment of absurd, bloody terror that becomes a motif and a thematic key. The ape is a wild animal behaving according to its nature even though it has been tamed and trained for human uses.

The same can be said for the horses who serve as Peele’s totems of movie tradition. He invokes what is thought to be the very first moving image, captured by the 19th-century inventor and adventurer Eadweard Muybridge , of a man on horseback. Emerald ( Keke Palmer ) and O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) claim the rider as their ancestor. They honor his legacy by holding onto the business started by their father, Otis Haywood (Keith David), a ranch that supplies horses for television and movies.

O.J. — it’s short for Otis Jr. — is the main wrangler, a laconic, sad-eyed cowboy more comfortable around horses than people. His sister is more outgoing, and one of the offhand delights of “Nope” is how credibly Kaluuya and Palmer convey the prickly understanding that holds siblings together and sometimes threatens to drive them apart.

Strange things are happening on the ranch. The power cuts out, a mysterious cloud lurks on the horizon, and freakish storms drop detritus from the sky. A horse’s flank is pierced by a falling house key, and Otis Sr. takes an improbable projectile in the eye. Is there a flying saucer haunting the valley? Emerald and O.J. suspect as much, and so does their neighbor, an entrepreneur known as Jupe (Steven Yeun) who has turned his corner of the valley into a Wild West-themed tourist trap.

The possible U.F.O. hovers around the edges of the action for a good while, kind of like the shark in “Jaws” — or the spaceship in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” — adding an element of danger that throws human interactions into comical and dramatic relief. As in “Jaws,” a fractious posse forms to deal with the threat, including Angel (Brandon Perea), an anxious techie, and Antlers (Michael Wincott), a visionary cinematographer who shows up at the ranch with a hand-cranked IMAX camera. Jupe, whose back story as a child actor connects him to that wayward chimp, is a bit like the mayor of Amity — less a villain than the representative of a clueless, self-serving status quo.

He’s also a showman, and as such an avatar of the film’s ambivalence about the business of spectacle. Emerald, O.J., Antlers and Angel, by contrast, are craftspeople, absorbed in matters of technique and concerned with the workaday ethics of image-making. This is the place to note Guillaume Rocheron’s haunting, eye-popping special effects, Hoyte van Hoytema’s lucid-dream cinematography and Nicholas Monsour’s sharp editing, and to encourage you to think about the hard work and deep skill represented by all the names in the final credits.

Peele, of course, is both craftsman and showman. He’s too rigorous a thinker to fall back on facile antagonisms between art and commerce, and too generous an entertainer to saddle a zigzagging shaggy-dog story with didacticism. Instead, he revels in paradoxes. The moral of “Nope” is “look away,” but you can’t take your eyes off it. The title accentuates the negative, but how can you refuse?

Nope Rated R. Scares and swears. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes. In theaters.

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Nope (2022)

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Daniel Kaluuya as O.J. Haywood ad Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood in Jordan Peele's Nope.

“Nope” Is One of the Great Movies About Moviemaking

film review nope

By Richard Brody

The essence of the cinema is the symbol—the filming of action that stands for something else, that gets its identity from what’s offscreen. There’s plenty of action in Jordan Peele’s new film, “ Nope ,” and it’s imaginative and exciting if viewed purely as the genre mashup that it is—a science-fiction movie that’s also a modern-day Western. But even that premise bears an enormous, intrinsic symbolic power, one that was already apparent in a much slighter precursor, Jon Favreau’s 2011 film, “ Cowboys & Aliens .” Like “Nope,” Favreau’s film involves the arrival of creatures from outer space in the American West; there, it was already apparent that what the genres share is the unwelcome arrival of outsiders from afar (aliens are to Earth as white people are to this continent). Peele takes the concept many ingenious steps further.

“Nope” is a phantasmagorical story of Black people in the American West, the unwelcome among the unwelcome, and it’s set in the present-day West, namely, Hollywood and the Hollywood-proximate, the very heart of Wild West mythology. “Nope” is one of the great movies about moviemaking, about the moral and spiritual implications of cinematic representation itself—especially the representation of people at the center of American society who are treated as its outsiders. It is an exploitation film—which is to say, a film about exploitation and the cinematic history of exploitation as the medium’s very essence.

Peele’s film is set mainly on a horse farm in California, Haywood Hollywood Horses, that provides the animals as needed for movies and TV shows and commercials. Its owner, Otis Haywood, Sr. (Keith David), dies mysteriously after being hit by a bullet-like piece of space debris that showers the property. The farm is taken over by his two children, Otis, Jr., called O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya), and Emerald (Keke Palmer). Neither of the heirs, though, is entirely cut out to fill Otis’s shoes. O.J., who loves the horses and works devotedly with them, is something of an introvert; he isn’t the communicator—the on-set presence—that his father was. Emerald, who is very much a communicator, is an aspiring filmmaker and actor for whom the horses are just a job, and not a very pleasant one. To address the farm’s financial troubles, they sell horses to a nearby Western theme park. But, when the source of the space debris—a monstrous U.F.O. that sucks humans and horses into its maw and eats them—makes its appearance, O.J. and Emerald are forced to fight it. They’re also inspired, for the purpose of saving the farm financially, to film it, in the hope of selling the first authentic footage of a U.F.O.

I’m being especially chary of spoilers in discussing “Nope”; I greatly enjoyed the discovery of the plot’s daring and inventive twists and turns, along with the discerning and speculative ideas that they bring to light. By remarkable design, the movie is as full of action as it is light on character psychology. There’s no special reason why O.J. is taciturn or Emerald is ebullient, or why they’re able to marshal the inner resources for mortal combat with invaders from outer space. “Nope” offers the characters little backstory—at least, not of the usual sort. Rather, Peele pushes even further with a theme that he launched in “ Get Out ” and “ Us ”: the recognition of history—especially its hidden or suppressed aspects—as backstory. With “Nope,” Peele looks specifically to the history of the cinema and its intersection with the experience of Black Americans to create a backstory that virtually imbues every frame of the movie.

For the Haywoods, the crucial backstory goes to the birth of the cinema: the real-life “moving images,” created by Eadweard Muybridge in the eighteen-seventies and eighties, that are often considered the primordial movies. Muybridge was commissioned to study the movement of a galloping horse; the name of the Black jockey he photographed riding one of those horses went unrecorded. In “Nope,” Peele creates a fictitious identity for the rider—Alistair Haywood, the family’s forebear. Emerald tells the crew on a TV commercial, who are relying on one of their horses, that, when it comes to movies, the Haywoods have “skin in the game.” Acknowledging and extending cinema’s legacy while also redressing its omissions and misrepresentations of history is the premise of “Nope”: the responsibility, the guilt, the danger, the ethical compromise of the cinematic gaze.

The film-centric symbolism of “Nope” gives rise to the film’s distinctive, surprising sense of texture. “Get Out” and “Us” are films of a thick cinematic impasto, crowded with characters and tangled with action. “Nope,” made on a much higher budget, is a sort-of blockbuster—but an inside-out blockbuster. If the first two films are oil paintings, “Nope” is a watercolor of the kind that leaves patches of the underlying paper untinted. It’s set in wide-open Western spaces, and what fills their emptiness is power: political, historical, physical, psychological.

The movie is also filled with images—imagined ones, and also real ones, a visual overlay of myth and lore that fills the Western landscape with the history of the cinema. What embodies the invisible lines of power is the gaze, of the eye and of the camera alike. Peele has been, from the start of his career, one of the great directors of point-of-view shots, of the drama and the psychology of vision, and he pursues the same idea to radical extremes in “Nope.” Point-of-view shots are at the center of the drama; again, avoiding spoilers, the spark of the drama turns out to be, in effect, eye contact—the connection of the seer and the seen (including when they’re one and the same, in reflections). Alongside the intrusive intimacy of the naked eye, Peele makes explicit the inherently predatory aspect of the photographic image—the taking of life, so to speak—and the responsibility that image-making imposes on the maker.

There’s another bit of backstory that puts the filmmaker’s responsibility front and center. The movie begins with a scene in a TV studio, where an ostensibly trained chimpanzee performing with human actors on a sitcom runs amok. (This subplot reminds me of the horrific accident on the set of “ Twilight Zone: The Movie ,” in 1982.) A survivor of the chimp’s attack, which took place in 1996, is an Asian American child actor (Jacob Kim) who now, as an adult (played by Steven Yeun), is the owner of Jupiter’s Claim, the Western theme park to which O.J. has been selling horses. The jovial owner, called Jupe, has also had some contact with the U.F.O. and is also trying to profit from it, indifferent to the risks involved. Jupe’s space-horse show (something of a mysterious, invitation-only event) makes uncannily clear the predatory connection between viewers and, um, consumers.

Peele is seriously playful with the technology of movies in ways that recall Martin Scorsese’s “ Hugo .” The action of “Nope” pivots on the power and the nature of movie technology—the contrast of digital and optical images—and the creative rediscovery of bygone methods, as reflected in its very cast of characters, which includes a young electronic-surveillance nerd and U.F.O. buff (Brandon Perea) and a grizzled cinematographer (Michael Wincott). The TV commercial for which the Haywoods rent a horse is being shot in a studio, in front of a green screen (another empty visual space shot through with power), where a melancholy horse is standing still, stripped of its majestic energy, reduced to a mere digital emblem of itself, ridden by no one but manipulated by a desk jockey with no onscreen identity at all. Peele presents the C.G.I. on which “Nope” itself depends as a dubious temptation and a form of dangerous power.

Yet the crucial bit of backstory remains unexpressed: the question of why, of all the horse farms in California, the space creatures chose to target the one that’s Black-owned. The answer to the question is one that both demands expression and faces a silencing on a daily, institutional basis. The movie opens with a Biblical quote: a scourging prophecy, from the book of Nahum. In transferring the politics of “Nope” to the intergalactic level—a sardonic vision of the universality of racism—Peele also transfers them to an overarching, spiritual, metaphysical one. He offers a scathing, exuberant vision of redemption. ♦

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Western theme park Jupiter’s Claim. It also incorrectly described the space debris that killed Otis Haywood, Sr.

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Nope: How Hype And Expectations Killed Jordan Peele's Movie Streak

With a no-spoilers advertising campaign and what's seen as a weak story, many think that Nope fails to live up to Jordan Peele's previous outings.

This piece contains spoilers for Nope (2022) Nope , the latest feature from writer/director Jordan Peele following his fantastic double bill of Get Out and Us , has divided critics. Unlike his universally praised Get Out and his critically adored Us (and even his script for Candyman ), Nope has gotten mixed reviews from both audiences and critics. Empire Magazine gave it a full five stars and called it, "An ambitious, provocative swing," while our own review countered by saying: "What was supposed to be ambitious and engaging quickly runs out of steam."

Revisiting Nope reveals a movie that is let down by two things: the weight of expectations, and the cryptic advertising that preceded a movie which was actually, at the end of the day, something extremely straightforward.

The Weight of the World on Peele's Shoulders

Nope is a movie about ranchers that supply their animals for film sets, whose land is regularly visited by a UFO. It is singular in its own vision to focus on that one element, but in contrast to Peele's other works, comes off as surface level and hollow. Both Get Out and Us told horror stories that used America's past and blatant current day racism to inseam its own scares; while Nope is not connected to these previous films, it cannot help but be compared.

It's hard to quite put into words just how big of an impact Get Out had when it was released in 2017. On a tiny budget of just under $5 million, the film made back over $250 million worldwide through word of mouth and its take on Black people in society through the guise of classic horror. Get Out made the Blumhouse company the efficient film factory that it is today and proved that Jordan Peele wasn't just the latter name of a comedy duo. The movie helped turn a new trend in the genre into a mainstream phenomenon, and multiple imitators arrived to jump on the bandwagon of this new wave of 'elevated horror.' By the following 2018, a white-suited Peele was on the stage of the 90th Oscars accepting an award for Best Original Screenplay for his film.

Nope, Nah, Nada

Whereas Get Out 's Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is an incredibly rounded and bright individual objectified into being an item purchasable by some white overlords, Nope 's characters are underwritten, and when they do speak their idioms can come off as stereotypes, schtum and unremarkable. This isn't a knock on the actors whatsoever, and Kaluuya is a great performer , but the simple fact is that he's playing a quiet man (OJ Haywood) of few words and has little chance to really act.

Related: Old Jordan Peele Tweet Seems to Correlate to Director's Latest Movie Nope

Keke Palmer is the real talker here as Emerald Haywood - OJ's sister - but she's an underwritten character as well, using her gift of gab to promote herself and express little interest about anything else. When faced with the actual predator above them, her reactions and language feel a stark contrast to the quietness of her brother; to the point of the character feeling like only so far away from the exact stereotype Peele's work has managed to dispel in previous years (especially when you realize that Emerald's very first scene introduces her as someone with poor time management for a job role...). On the characters seeing the alien and opting not to interact whatsoever, sure, the film gets a laugh every time the word "nope" is uttered, but the dialogue overall is so few and far between to get past an irregular chuckle at its own smugness, that the script and its wording comes off as just misjudged.

Nope lacks the bigger picture storytelling that we have come to expect when the words "from Jordan Peele" are attached to something; while there might be thematic threads, it's difficult to gauge the greater questions here. Characters drop in and out of the story for a moment to then be randomly resurrected — only to be killed off! The Walking Dead 's Steven Yeun plays Ricky 'Jupe' Park, a former child star and now owner of a Wild West-style theme park; he feels like he's a part of an entirely different film, and it maroons his story and the Haywoods' journey into feeling underdeveloped.

Peeleing Away the Layers

When Nope was first advertised, it arrived as a 30-second teaser giving zero information away. Mysterious and secretive, with next to no context, and with so little information on the film, the internet gradually began to clutch at the small amount of visuals they had been given and made wild assumptions (like a film focused on horses from outer space !).

Its marketing relied simply on that "from Jordan Peele" phrase; now such a force in original filmmaking, the advertisements relied on his name alone to suggest an interesting and wildly unique take on genre. Mystique is one thing, but to go in as vague a direction as they did and get back what Nope gave just leaves a misleading feeling .

Arguably, Nope isn't even a horror movie, more a sci-fi with horror elements , and not what we had come to expect from a man so associated with the genre (even when not in the director's chair and unrelated to his own trilogy, Peele has been involved in horror on the recent reimaginings of The Twilight Zone and Candyman ). It's honestly barely a sci-fi movie; if anything, it's more of a movie movie.

Related: Nope: Why This is Jordan Peele's Most Divisive and Polarizing Movie

As a result, Nope is a movie that loves movies. With regular nods to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and feeling like its own take on Shyamalan's Signs (a movie that, to a smaller minority, was also not very good), Nope is a film where filmmaking and the filmmaking process are intrinsically a part of its story. Security cameras guard the perimeter of the Haywoods' ranch on the lookout for aliens, only to be upended by bugs on the lens. The film also goes out of its way to express that the very first stuntman on a horse was a Black man, and OJ's costume for the finale is a crew hoodie directly from the set of The Scorpion King . It's just a shame that this nodding back to the past didn't result in a movie that developed more of its own identity.

Nope in Hindsight

Hindsight is something that has been very cruel to Nope, in that looking back on what little was advertised to us turned out to be un-scary hokum, and that it just wasn't as good as Peele's past work, which created massive expectations by being the most relevant voice of the horror genre.

But in closing, it's ironically the same sort of time that hindsight requires to thrive that might make Nope a better picture. Nope is something wholly original and an offshoot from the current age of blockbuster cookie-cutter drudge, and Warner Brothers' Stalin-esque erasure in a grasp for any and all loose change down the side of a very tired couch.

Uneven, Nope is a movie that feels like its director was given a blank check based solely on his previous (excellent) works and got vertigo when looking down from the top. Despite performing at the box office and currently having at least earned back twice its budget (with time in cinemas still left), Nope will be known as the weak end to Peele's opening trilogy of films.

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‘Nope’ Review: Jordan Peele’s UFO Drama Has a Mood of Exciting Unease but an Arbitrary Story

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play horse-ranch siblings who try to photograph a close encounter in a movie that, for all its skillfully ominous atmosphere, begins to fly in all directions.

By Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman

Chief Film Critic

NOPE, Keke Palmer, 2022. © Universal Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection

Jordan Peele ’s “ Nope ” is a tantalizingly creepy mixed bag of a sci-fi thriller. It’s a movie that taps into our fear and awe of UFOs, and for a while it holds us in a shivery spell. It picks the audience up and carries it along, feeding off spectral hints of the otherworldly. Yet watching the movie, you can just about taste the DNA of Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “Nope” mirrors the trajectory of other films that have been made in the shadow of “Close Encounters,” like M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” and Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival.” Here, as in those films, the anticipation works better than the payoff. 

Daniel Kaluuya , an actor so skillful he seems to overhaul his spirit with every role, plays the central character, Otis Haywood Jr., a sweet-souled but recessive and taciturn country fellow who goes by the nickname of OJ. Early on, he reunites with his feisty chatterbox sister, Emerald ( Keke Palmer ), on the California horse ranch the two have inherited from their father, Otis Sr. (Keith David), who in one of the film’s first scenes dies during a mysterious shower of inanimate debris. For several generations, the ranch has rented out horses to the entertainment industry, with the Haywoods serving as on-set wranglers and horse whisperers. But OJ is looking to sell the business and cash in.

Before he gets the chance, he walks out of the Haywoods’ beautiful farmhouse, stepping into the bright starlit night to chase a horse that has leapt the fence of its training arena. What he sees and hears in the distance is freaky in the extreme: a crowd, lit by floodlights, that seems to have assembled like some outer-space cult. Before long, the signs grow weirder: a cloud that doesn’t move (and hasn’t for weeks). Wind that funnels down into a small tornado. And, finally, a dark svelte object that glides through the air like nothing of this earth. The film’s title plays, amusingly, off that most casual of contempo buzz phrases ( nope! ), and how it perfectly expresses our incredulity in the face of the otherworldly. 

Of all the fanciful phenomena that rational people claim not to believe in (ghosts, demons, monsters, the theory that Joe Biden stole the election), UFOs hold a special place. Simply put, there’s a lot of evidence for them. I don’t mean the kind of evidence cited by the folks who think that Ed and Lorraine Warren, of the “Conjuring” films, are paranormal documentarians. I’m talking about the mountains of filmed footage of UFOs, a lot of which is fake but not all of it. Of course, just because a flying object is unidentified doesn’t mean that it came from outer space. Yet the best UFO footage, which is available by the clipload on YouTube, exerts an uncanniness that can’t be explained away. You look at caught-on-the-fly images of gliding spacecraft, or lights dancing in the sky, and think, “Wow, what is that? What if ?” Those thoughts have only been encouraged by recent reports leaked by the U.S. government that acknowledge just how many flying objects there are that even military experts can’t identify, some zipping through the air with a technology no one recognizes.

“Nope” has a seductive mood of unease that makes the film feel, for a while, like something new: the first UFO thriller of the cellphone-ready, I-saw-it-online, how-can-you-not-believe-your-own-eyes? era. This is Peele’s third feature, after the landmark racial-paranoia nightmare “Get Out” and the ambitious but muddled doppelgänger fantasy “Us,” and for a while he draws on his skill at leading us down detours that become hypnotic lost highways. 

In a way, the whole setup is a bait-and-switch, as Peele lures us into the quirky lives of OJ and Emerald, taking note of the fact that their business, Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, has deep roots in racial pride. It seems that the Black jockey who appeared for a few seconds in one of history’s earliest film clips was the great-great-grandfather of Otis Sr. (That’s part of their spiel to potential clients.) Kaluuya, so sly, communicating mostly through his sharp gaze, and Palmer, whose fast-break aggro style acquires more heart as the movie goes on, make the Haywoods adult siblings we feel invested in, and the film introduces a couple of other key characters: Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star who now runs a Wild West theme park called Jupiter’s Claim (that’s where the space-cult show was), and Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), a techie salesman at Fry’s Electronics who helps the Haywoods set up a surveillance system to record the alien spaceship that appears to have settled in over their property.

It’s a flying saucer that resembles a giant undulating sand dollar, and if you had to use one word to describe it that word would be “hungry.” OJ and Emerald decide to photograph it; if they can land the perfect shot and sell it to the right media source (they have Oprah in mind), it could make them rich. But how do you catch a phantom spaceship on film? You call the jaded analog cinematographer Antlers Holst, played by the veteran croaky-voiced hipster actor Michael Wincott.

As they launch the plan, “Nope” itself starts flying off in different directions. It’s part of the film’s design — and, in a way, its racial consciousness — that OJ and Emerald are too mistrustful of mainstream white society to get any authorities involved. So we’re spared the sort of meddlesome-U.S.-government boilerplate plot that weighed down a movie like “Arrival.” Yet “Nope” doesn’t have a plot so much as a series of happenings that spill out in an impressionistic and arbitrary fashion. There are memorable touches along the way, like the monster image of a praying mantis on a surveillance camera or, as the electricity goes out, the way Peele slows down Corey Hart’s ’80s kitsch classic “Sunglasses at Night” to evoke the dread of a world stopping in its tracks. Yet for all these suspenseful felicities, logic often takes a back seat, which has the effect of lessening our involvement.

The spaceship, for instance, will suck you into its membrane hole if you look right at it…and sometimes if you don’t. The details of the Haywoods’ strategy to film the thing are never fully sketched in. When Emerald dots the property with inflatable tube men, it makes for a grabby image, but the point of these super-fake decoys is barely established. What’s more, the most disturbing scene in the movie — a flashback to Ricky’s ’90s cable sitcom, which turned into an impromptu horror set when the chimp who played the lovable Gordy went on a bloody rampage — turns out to have nothing to do with…anything. When the spaceship finally unfurls its freak flag, it looks like a pirate galleon made out of a giant ripped bedsheet, which is a little spooky and a little innocuous. “Nope,” like “Signs” and “Arrival,” will probably be a major hit, and it confirms the power of the Jordan Peele brand. But it also confirms that making movies with too much chaos and sprawl is threatening to become part of that brand.

Reviewed at AMC Empire, July 19, 2022. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 135 MIN.

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