By Bradley Lane
Writer, director, actor and comic Jordan Peele has become synonymous with the modern-day horror film. Breaking out as a filmmaking talent in 2017 with his scathing critique of modern post-racial ideology, Get Out, then cementing himself in 2019 as a name to watch with his deconstruction of the American class system with Us, Peele has had nonstop success up until now. With that kind of sustained success comes more opportunity. With that opportunity comes bigger budgets, access to more talented collaborators, and of course, more pressure from the studio to deliver. Even this year we’ve seen a similar case of a critically acclaimed arthouse director trying to make the leap to big budget films only to massively bomb at the box office in Robert Egger’s The Northman. So the question becomes, can Jordan Peele sustain his success while maintaining his artistic integrity in the studio system?
Nope is about a brother and a sister, OJ and Emerald, coping with the unexpected, and mysterious, loss of their father, Otis. Otis owned a horse ranch dedicated to training horses to be in films, which he left to his children after his passing. In the months since, OJ took responsibility for the ranch as Emerald tried to make it as a creative in LA. However, when one night OJ sees something in the sky that is both unexplainable and could be a clue to his father’s passing, he and his sister dedicate themselves to documenting the phenomenon in the sky with the help of Angel, a tech nerd who helps set up and operate their camera equipment.
On the film’s surface, Peele’s newest output feels like an homage to the blockbusters of the 1970s. The mysterious, unseen, non-human antagonist feels most akin to the shark from Jaws, and the epic orchestral score feels distinctly John Williams inspired. This inspiration is only a starting point though, because Nope is constantly pushing the envelope in terms of scale. The climactic third act is one of the most exciting and well-crafted finales in recent memory.
What makes Nope so special though is the layered themes and questions it poses with its narrative and symbolism. I expect interpretations of the film to be very personal because of the breadth of ideas posited within the work, but for me Nope exists, at least in part, as a testament to and warning of, the power of captured images. The political power images can enforce the art of filmmaking itself in relationship to imagery, and the power we place onto our own images all intertwine in a grounded story about grief and overcoming fatalism. It’s a massive undertaking to introduce all those ideas in a film, much less a film as interested in being as wildly entertaining and spectacle driven as Nope.
All this is to say I can barely scratch the surface of Peele’s latest work within the scope of this review. The performances, sound design and cinematography all come together to make a film whose craft is impeccable. Nope is an homage and update to an era of blockbusters that were thoughtful and rich with an indescribable “movie magic” that you know only when you experience it in a dark, packed room, staring up at a bright screen, immersed in a transportive and transformative story. – 5/5 stars