Since the success of Get Out, Jordan Peele has become one of the top horror directors currently working. His third, Nope, see the filmmaker go into a sci-fi direction.
Otis Jr. AKA OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) are brother and sister and the owners of Haywood Hollywood Horses. The family business is struggling after the death of their father, Otis Sr. (Keith David).
There are strange events that are disturbing the horses. However, Emerald sees an opportunity to save the ranch because if they can get the impossible shot, the siblings can prove the existence of UFOs and profit off the discovery.
It has been a long time since there have been any films about UFOs. The most recent mainstream film I can think of was 2009’s The Fourth Kind. UFOs have fallen out of the public consciousness since the improvement of consumer camera technology so any footage can easily be disprove. Yet the subject of UFOs and aliens visiting Earth can still offer a lot of story possibilities and Peele was able to put his own spin on this subgenre.
Like Peele’s previous films, Nope had a mystery that was slowly revealed. The UFO was obscured for most of the film and was unveiled gradually. It was classic monster filmmaking because the unknown can be scarier. It worked for films like Jaws, Alien, and A Quiet Place.
Nope did produce two of the greatest horror moments of the year. The first was when the reveal of what the UFO actually was. The concept of what it did to people was horrifying, let alone actually seeing it. The other was when some characters were trapped inside as it was raining blood and debris. For a horror film to have two genuinely scary sequences it has succeeded on a base level.
Nope has been compared to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a story about an ordinary man who has an encounter with a UFO and becomes obsessed with finding them again. Both films have a slow build-up and the mystery of what the UFOs were.
Peele follows the example of Spielberg where he makes a film about characters as much as about a sci-fi concept. OJ and Emerald had contrasting views and personalities. OJ was the serious, quiet one, and tried to keep the business afloat to honour their father. Emerald was more charismatic and outgoing than her brother but not interested in the business and too easygoing for her own good.
There was tension due to their differing views on the ranch and Emerald told a story about their father which showed her resentment towards him. The pair needed to work together to get the evidence of the UFO and they were concerned for each other when the peril increased.
Peele also seemed like he was influenced by Quentin Tarantino when making Nope. Nope was a Hollywood-centric film. Many of the characters worked in the entertainment industry in some way.
OJ supplied horses for productions, Emerald was an apprising actress, and Jupe Park (Steven Yeun) was a former child actor turned theme park owner and reality TV star. The focus of the story was OJ and Emerald trying to get high-end footage of the UFO so they could sell it to the highest bidder.
Like Tarantino, there were plenty of references to the industry. The Haywoods had co-opted the story of the jockey in Animal Locomotion and used it to sell themselves. Jupe parlayed his fame as a child star to operate his theme park, and wealthy clinics got to see Jupe’s private collection from an infamous sitcom he appeared in.
There were references to some major properties. Angel (Brandon Perea), theorised what the UFO could be. He talked about the Ancient Aliens and suggested the UFO could be humans from the future to warn us about something which felt like a reference to Interstellar. There were also references to the Scorpion King which was a film the Haywoods worked on.
Nope did replicate Tarantino’s in two other ways. Tarantino has used Western motifs in his films and Nope was filled with Western imagery. Nope had the desert setting and OJ was a cowboy since he tamed and rode horses, whilst Jupe’s theme park was a highly sanitised version of the Old West.
The final way Nope mirrored Tarantino was through its use of chapters. There were some flashbacks during the film. The biggest moment was a long sequence that showed a chimpanzee going on a rampage on a TV set.
Thematically there was a logic to the sequence but narratively it was redundant. It felt like Peele was pitching to make the next Planet of the Apes film. Peele making a Planet of the Apes film would be a cool prospect.
Peele has developed a reputation for making films with racial themes. Get Out was the most obvious since it was about African American characters being used by wealthy white Americans.
All his films have been centred around African American characters and with Nope he gave genres (i.e. UFO-themed sci-fi and Westerns) that normally focus on white characters with a black voice. An obvious reference to race was OJ’s name since it raised some eyebrows when he was on set. Audiences can enjoy Nope for the sci-fi horror mystery or the deeper subtext.
Nope marks a third triumph for Peele and his directional career. He was able to make a compelling sci-fi mystery with some great horror moments.