One Liner Review:
Layered and detailed, this one isn’t as thrilling as it should have been on a first viewing, but you can tell that it’s a movie that warrants multiple viewings and will get better with each one.
Nope is a very smart movie that isn’t especially easy to get or appreciate. It’s an alien / UFO movie that doesn’t quite deliver the way you’d expect. And that’s problematic for those for wanted more. What it does offer, in place of the usual instant gratification moments, is a deep story about characters in an unusual situation. Like director Jordan Peele’s first two movies, this one is clever and surprising. But there’s a lot here, and it’s the kind of movie that needs more than one viewing to fully appreciate.
Nope is a very strange movie. That’s not surprising considering it’s written and directed by Jordan Peele. What’s also not surprising is that there are multiple layers here, and things that are deeper or mean more than they seem like they do, on the surface. This is a movie that takes some work figuring out, and connecting all of the pieces together. Now those are some pretty cool attributes, and very similar to Peele’s last movie, Us. Only that one had some instant gratification moments, meaning some moments that you wanted to go back and rewatch, because they were more than satisfying. Nope doesn’t really have those.
Get Out, Peele’s first movie, was by far his best. That movie fired on all cylinders, and delivered in all possible ways including comedy, suspense, instant gratification moments, and deeper level moments. Us was good, but it wasn’t quite as good, getting a little too out there and conspiracy theory-like. It was kind like Peele’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie, about zombies or clones living among us. With Nope, Peele is taking on UFO and alien movies, and he’s certainly doing it in his own unique way. This is an alien movie unlike any you have ever seen before. And despite that sounding like a great log line advertisement for the film, it is actually not such a good thing. It’s almost as if you don’t get to see the alien in this movie. Now that’s not exactly true, but in a sense it seems that way. That’s the level of unsatisfying or non-climactic this thing is.
In a sense, this is more of a mystery than an alien movie or a monster movie. And by mystery, what I mean is it’s about figuring out what’s happening. The first two scenes of the movie alone are meant to be somewhat confusing and somewhat question-worthy. First, the movie opens with hearing audio of a tv show over a black screen. Then we hear an attack. And finally, we fade in to see a picture, and what we are looking at is the aftermath of a massacre where a chimpanzee stands bloodied after having attacked and possibly killed some people. And then the movie cuts to black. After that, it starts showing us the story of other characters. What? What does that mean? Who were those people? We do find out the answers to this later, but that’s the level of confusion this movie wants us to be experiencing.
Similarly, the first scene featuring our main characters, has OJ (Daniel Kaluuya, the breakout star from Get Out,) and his father, Otis, takings out horses, when Otis is suddenly killed. We don’t see what killed him, but instead our focus is on OJ as screams and noises happen all around him, including sounds like things falling from the sky. The sounds stop, and OJ calls over to his father, but his dad falls off the horse, badly injured. We don’t know what happened to the father, and by not showing us what happened, it’s very similar to the opening scene with the chimpanzee. This happens again later on, when characters stare up at the sky, and we stay on the character’s faces the entire time, never leaving them to see what the characters are looking at.
OJ drives his bleeding father to the hospital to learn that things fell out of the sky, like keys and a coin, and struck him. The coin actually went through Otis’ eye, and Otis ends up dying shortly afterwards. Now it’s up to OJ and his sister, Em (Emerald, played by rising star Keke Palmer,) to keep the family business alive. That family business is lending out horses to movies and commercials, and staying on set as the trainer, to keep the horses in line. And we see one of these commercials, with both OJ and Em showing up to try and pull off a job without their father. It doesn’t go so well, when someone brings a light and mirror next to the horse’s eye, the horse ends up kicking someone. Needless to say, the Hayward Horse Ranch team is fired from the job.
Later that day, OJ and Em make a trip out to a carnival-like old west theme park called Jupiter’s Claim. It’s run by a man named Jupe, (played by Minari’s Steven Yuen,) who is the child actor that survived that chimpanzee attack at the start of the film. We see more flashbacks to this later on. Jupe is buying horses from OJ, one at a time. Em walks around the park and is fascinated by some of the different things she sees there, such as a working camera inside of a well. Together they go up to the office of Jupe, and he shows them his secret room full of nostalgia from the TV show. He tells of how people used to pay to come see the room, and one couple actually paid to spend the night in there.
After leaving Jupiter’s Claim, OJ starts seeing what appears to be a flying saucer in the clouds. He tells Em, and the two of them decide to get it on camera to get “the money shot.” They go to an electronics store and purchase some high tech cameras to put on their house. Then they have the technician, Angel, come out to install them. Only Angel is a conspiracy theorist, and he wants to know what’s going on. When they don’t tell him, he decides to monitor the feed on their camera without their permission. And so it begins. The quest to get this space ship on film. This is pretty much the end of the first half. It’s been kind of slow so far, but not without purpose. Everything, from the TV show with Jupe, to what happened to their father, will come back to play later on.
One of the earlier moments of the second half involves a fakeout situation with alien creatures. Peele keeps the moment going for a little while though, long enough for the audience to believe it’s real, before learning the truth. And it’s an important scene, because it’s Peele’s answer to people (like myself,) who might say there aren’t enough aliens in this movie. There isn’t enough alien spectacle. This scene is him saying, “is this what you want? Ok, here you go. Only NOPE. It’s not actually real. But at least I gave you a taste of a direction this movie could have gone.” And by giving us this scene, which takes place in a barn at night, he makes a pretty good case for why the movie doesn’t go that way… because then it would be just like every other alien film, from Signs to Independence Day.
Instead, Peele gives us something much smarter, deeper, and more thought provoking. Instead of watching alien attacks in glorious detail, or dissecting the bodies of these unusual organisms, this movie has us watching a cloud that does not move, like all of the others around it. It’s very much the Jaws mentality, where the more you don’t see and have to use your imagination, the more scary it is. And it works. This movie is definitely scary. At times. Like this one moment where a bunch of people are eaten up, and we see the experience of the people inside of the creature. That moment is truly horrifying and way scarier than any alien attack.
Nope is not an easy movie to get or really enjoy on a first viewing. The things we are used to getting from an alien movie, we don’t get here. This is far better than Arrival, Dennis Villanueve’s take on an alien movie, which kept the aliens blurry the whole time, but similarly this one doesn’t give us quite what we’d expect. What it does give us are some fascinating characters and scary situations. It’s safe to say this would be a completely different movie, and nowhere near as good without the Jupiter’s Claim subplot. That situation from the TV show flashbacks, to what ends up happening when Jupe opens a new attraction at his theme park, is by far the scariest and also most interesting thing happening in this movie. As far as the rest of it, it’s good without being great. This is the kind of movie that probably plays a whole lot better on a second viewing after some of the mysteries have been figured out, and the viewer can now enjoy and appreciate the cleverness of how all of this unfolds. With that one, we will just have to wait and see.