Dual Views: Jordan Peele's 'Nope'
This review of Nope (2022) will be divided into two parts written by two different BFB writers. The first part presents a negative opinion of the film, and the second part presents a positive opinion.
Who would have thought the guy who created the Obama Meet and Greet and Substitute Teacher comedy sketches would go on to create some of the most original horror films of the 21st century? Jordan Peele’s Nope is on a completely different scale than his previous smaller and self-contained films Get Out (2017) and Us (2019). The film is a full-blown blockbuster, packed with a multitude of characters, interweaving plotlines, and an alien so unique that it’ll take multiple viewings to fully grasp all the symbolism and foreshadowing during its 2-hour and 11-minute runtime. It’s a wonder that after over 100 years of filmmaking, we can still enter the movie theater and experience something new, and the experience of seeing Nope is an excellent one.
Unfortunately, the experience itself is only part of the equation, and Peele gets lost in the scale of his film. He decides to focus more on theme than storytelling, and although the first two acts are outstanding, Nope completely botches the landing.
The movie starts off with a scene so foreign from the original marketing material that you’ll almost wonder if you’re in the right theater. It’s a smart, subversive choice by Peele to throw off the audience in what they think is an alien film, and let their imaginations run wild as they try to figure out the meaning of the scene. We’re then introduced to OJ and Emerald (played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, respectively), two siblings who are attempting to continue the family’s trade after their father passes away due to a freak accident. Their characters are perfect foils for each other – OJ the quiet but hard worker and Emerald the extroverted and unfocused younger sister. Their performances are fantastic, with Keke Palmer being the standout. Although her character, and to be fair, none of the characters, is really that deep, it’s still enjoyable to watch as they try to figure out just what the hell is happening in the sky above them.
Nope is a pure spectacle through and through. Peele’s recruitment of Interstellar Director of Photography Hoyte van Hoytema is perhaps the best thing about it, as it is easily the most visually interesting of Peele’s three films. The night sequences carry a certain eeriness with them, and the duo finds a way to make the openness of the California desert feel claustrophobic as hell. The praise for craft doesn’t end with the camerawork though, as this is Peele’s best-directed film as well.
Get Out was an incredible debut that had some stunning imagery like the Sunken Place, but the tonal shifts from comedy to horror were so compartmentalized that they broke up tension and messed with pacing. Us had some interesting visuals but was plagued by confusing editing that made the second act a complete slog to get through. Nope fixes those issues and delivers the most entertaining Peele film yet. It feels like a film directed by someone with decades of experience, not a third outing. The sound and production design, the performances, the visual ideas – they’re all fascinating, so it’s a damn shame that the story is so incoherent.
I have no doubt that my take is divisive, but Peele really needed someone to go over this script and just ask him, “Why?” Why is every other character besides OJ and Emerald paper thin? Why do you spend so much time on Jupe just for that to happen? Why is the script structured around the monkey plot thread if it adds literally nothing to the story? Peele approaches Nope as though he’s creating a full season of a TV only for it to be squeezed into two hours. In TV, you can have bottle episodes that go nowhere, but feature films aren't television. The Gordy plotline is fascinating. In fact, the Gordy sequences are among the most interesting, disturbing, and heartbreaking scenes I’ve seen all year, but it all amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of the story, and that is massively disappointing.
I kept waiting for it to all matter, for a grand reveal, for an “aha!” moment, but it never came. It just dissipated with the end of the film. There’s a clear thematic purpose to the plotline – it serves as a parallel parable to the main story – but it does nothing for the alien narrative itself, and that ultimately leaves you feeling empty when the credits start to roll. This was a cognizant choice that I’m sure Peele knew would be divisive, but the gamble didn’t pay off for me. I left the theater thinking about Gordy more than the alien plot, and that’s an issue.
That’s not to say that the main alien plotline isn’t fun or even interesting – it is. The final act is a stunning combination of camera work and creature design, but as entertaining as it may be watching our characters avoid the death-suck of the alien being, I started to wonder why so much time was wasted on underdeveloped personal conflicts instead of making an ending that resonates. I still remember the final scene of Get Out. Even with the many issues of Us, the image of the people hand in hand spanning across the globe sticks in my mind. I can’t tell you how Nope ended because I was focused on all the threads that were left unraveled.
Nope leaves me with a similar feeling that MEN did. The story was a mess but the film itself is so well-crafted that it’s hard to not admire it for what it is. It’s original, it’s fun to watch, and there are parts that are quite terrifying. It’s just a shame that when someone asks if it’s one of the year’s best, I have to answer with “nope”.
For me, Nope is Jordan Peele making good on the promise of his first two films. Get Out, the cultural nuclear blast that rewrote the horror genre Saw-style, had a sleek, sharp-edged script and all the formal qualities of a barely above-the-bar TV movie. Peele’s sophomore feature, Us, was the inverse: astounding technical wizardry paired with an ambitious, overstuffed, and tonally incoherent script (which is to say, it was very cool and I liked it a lot). Yet, after watching both Get Out and Us, I had the overwhelming sensation that the films I had watched were incomplete; they felt like preliminary technical exercises for some yet-to-be-made masterpiece. The next film Peele put out, I assured myself both times, would surely be that masterpiece.
And hell, I’m happy to report that I was right! With Nope, Peele cements his place in the pantheon of genre masters. Gone entirely are the television sheen and transparent overtones of Sid Field discipleship that pervade Get Out. While Nope retains some of Us’s gangly narrative structure, with its myriad eccentricities and loose ends, Peele’s pained dedication to plot and lofty symbolism is replaced by a radical interest in the characters. For all the admirable qualities of his previous work, they tend towards concept over character and gamification over narrative resolution. There’s no better example of what sets Nope apart than that superstar chimp, Gordy.
In some ways, discussing the in-world, monkey-centric sitcom Gordy’s Home is a spoiler, but in most traditional ways, it really isn’t. In fact, the Gordy’s Home incident is the first image of the film. The monkey’s violent rampage traumatizes one of the film’s recurring tertiary characters, Ricky “Jupe” Park (portrayed by Steven Yeun and Jacob Kim). The story of Jupe and his lifelong obsession with Gordy is a fable about exploiting one’s pain and trauma for cash, Peele’s big idea of the film. A lengthy flashback in the center of the film is dedicated to showing the incident in detail.
Already, the internet’s been flooded with theory videos about Gordy’s significance to the film’s broader, supernatural plot despite virtually zero evidence to support this. Gordy, like the upright shoe and the [REDACTED], is just another bad miracle. The movie is full of them. The great innovation of Nope is that Peele has not just made a movie about something that happens to people, the systems and ideas that entrap them, but about the people themselves.
On top of all that, though, it’s just damn good filmmaking. Hoyte van Hoytema’s exceptional eye for scale is put to breathtaking use, particularly in Peele’s incredibly constructed third act in which, as many have pointed out, Keke Palmer does the Akira bike slide. The cinematic explosion of the finale is the perfect counterweight to the deliciously offbeat hangout vibes of the previous two acts, trading in an unsettling obliqueness (the mileage Peele gets out of a single profile shot of Keith David is astonishing) for an exceptionally cogent spectacle.
Wides of Daniel Kaluuya riding across the gulch scream “western” twice as loud as the Duel at El Diablo and Buck and the Preacher posters that adorn the walls of the Haywood home. Michael Wincott (essentially playing a version of Emmanuel Lubezki hilariously named “Antlers Holst”) cranks an IMAX camera with all the phallic veracity of a Gatling gun. It’s almost too much to handle. I mean, fuck, I can’t remember the last time I saw something this demandingly massive in a theater.
I began writing this piece last night and fell asleep on my computer (it was a long day). When I woke up to finish it, I found myself combing through paragraph after rambling, nonsensical paragraph of wild praise. And you what? Sleep-deprived Chance was right. This is the big one, folks. With Nope, I think it’s beyond safe to say that Jordan Peele has graduated from visionary to master. Yeehaw.
-Cameron & Chance