Updated: Aug 18
Source: Universal Pictures
Jordan Peele has cooked up another classic. He gave us the Sunken Place and the people in the mirror. Now we have monsters in the sky. Who says social commentary can’t be scary?
It wouldn’t be a Jordan Peele film if he didn’t make some type of social commentary along the way. And Nope certainly fits the bill. Peele ties together the themes of greed and exploitation of people and animals for the love of spectacle. It's something that has certainly always been true in Hollywood.
Aside from the social commentary, Peele uses traditional horror tropes in unexpected ways to get the reaction he wants.
This viewer doesn’t ordinarily find the idea of extraterrestrials the least bit scary. But Peele excels at horror because he subverts expectations. And this film is something that audiences won’t expect either.
Audiences are used to music indicating when a frightening scene is about to commence. Though the influx of Korean horror movies, where the music is cut to surprise audiences, may have begun to influence western horror. At any rate, Peele goes with absolute silence at pivotal moments. And it makes the scenes even more terrifying. Still, at other times there are sounds—otherworldly sounds that can make your hairs stand on end. Or he can take a seemingly innocuous tune and turn it into something incredibly haunting.
The setting adds to the ambiance. There is something about the landscape lit in the glow of a full moon that gives off an eerie vibe. And the cinematography is breathtaking at times. The result is that the landscape serves as the backdrop for some beautifully terrifying scenes.
It should also be clear at this point to anyone who has seen any of Peele’s previous movies that he is a film geek. So this movie is rich with film geek fodder. It has callbacks to some of Spielberg’s movies. Some that come to mind include Jaws and Close Encounters of a Third Kind. There’s even a scene that gives the slightest nod to Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira.
There are some characters that stand out. Daniel Kaluuya’s character, OJ Haywood, is probably the most complex in the whole film. He has a loved one taken from him. But he never goes full-on Captain Ahab. The logical train of thought would be for someone to either hate or fear the thing that takes away someone you love. Either run away or try to take revenge. Those two options seem to be the most logical. Instead, the drive to control the thing—to break it for the almighty dollar consumes him. The bottom line is profit. Apparently, it trumps family, fear and good sense.
Keke Palmer's Emerald Haywood is the little sister that shucks responsibility. She's a dreamer that comes up with the harebrained idea of proving to the world that there is other life in the universe, so the family can get its payday. But she comes to understand that fear sometimes makes good sense when dealing with forces of nature. Coincidently, the chemistry between Palmer and Kaluuya as siblings is epic.
Michael Wincott paints a portrait of the classic Hollywood cinematographer archetype in Antlers Holst that harkens back to King Kong's Carl Denham. Holst is the absolute personification of Hollywood. He is so obsessed with getting the perfect shot that his life and health become secondary.
Peele’s third film is just as brilliant as his first two. Adept at telling horror stories, he sets a frightening table for the audience with the main dish of a withering critique on Hollywood's obsession with spectacle in its pursuit of money. His sides are characters that serve as cautionary tales to this obsession. It's well seasoned with horror tropes. And It makes Nope a yep for this viewer.