Nope is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
The announcement of a new Jordan Peele project no longer feels like a film but rather an event, a rare elevation that reflects the likes of Christopher Nolan, David Fincher or Wes Anderson. Part of this comes from his razor-sharp debut Get Out, coined by some as one of the best horrors of the 2010s. While Peele could not overcome the typical sophomore slump with Us, despite electric performances from Nyong’o and co., his name has nonetheless carried a fierce storm of anticipation. His latest venture into the unknown, Nope, certainly feels like the director’s back on track.
First and foremost, Nope is about the idea of the spectacle. Peele threads the original filmic spectacle through brother-and-sister Daniel Kaluuya & Keke Palmer’s ancestry to the unnamed jockey on Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion. Snaring Palmer or Kaluuya for your feature is always bound to improve it, but to have the pair of them is something quite extraordinary. Both have impeccable chemistry, though perhaps to a fault – it feels at times less as though they’re related and more like there’s some uncleared tension within the room. This may be down to how damned charismatic Palmer and Kaluuya are.
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Peele has spoken about how Spielberg is a significant influence on the thematic undercurrent of Nope, taking inspiration from his sci-fi classic, Close Encounters – although there’s undoubtedly a little Jaws in there too. Given Spielberg’s love for the spectacle, the influence seems surprising given Nope appears to stand in contrast to the alluring nature of the spectacular. Steven Yeun’s traumatised-yet-blinkered park owner Ricky “Jupe” Park’s attempts at taming the mysterious cloud in the sky seems to be proof enough of that.
However, it feels as though Peele’s film cannot entirely escape the very problems it raises with the spectacle itself. At times, it feels overindulgent in giving the audience a mesmerising (and in moments, disturbing) array of arresting visuals. It’s clear that Peele feels as though audiences have become addicted, perhaps entirely dependent on hyper-spectacular filmmaking to remain engaged with modern cinema. But wouldn’t it be a more ambitious challenge to one’s audience to defy them, never showing what’s behind the curtain (or in this case, cloud?)
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One may consider if we have begun to place too much stock in Jordan Peele as a director-come-philosopher, as some of Us’ crucial failings are also present here – opening with yet another Bible quote as if to signpost the central themes of the film just in case the audience doesn’t get it. Much of Get Out’s prestige came in its effortlessly sutured socio-political commentary that lingered under the surface. With Us and Nope, that lurking feeling is replaced with Peele standing on a soapbox with a bullhorn. It’s certainly commendable that Peele would seek to critique something as monolithic as our dependence on the cinematic spectacle, using one of the greatest manipulators of such a tool as inspiration. Still, there isn’t a strong enough script here to support such complex navigation.
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That’s not to say Nope isn’t entertaining – Brandon Perea’s delightful believer in all things alien Angel is a fantastic foil to the stoic, evanescently cool Kaluuya and Palmer. Likewise, Michael Wincott’s Antlers Hoist feels like a distillation of every pretentious male director under the sun and yet manages to strike a particular poignancy in his approach to assisting the siblings in their conquest of the cloud. There are also some cute flourishes and hallmarks of classic horror, including Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.
It’s inspiring to see that Jordan Peele is back on track with Nope, which is easily his most approachable film to date; there’s some pulpy, straight-up unsettling alien activity here – think a Close Encounters of the Freaky Kind. If he can find a way to recapture that seemingly effortless metaphorical mindset for his next feature, I’m sure Peele will be back on top.
It’s inspiring to see that Jordan Peele is back on track with Nope, which is easily his most approachable film to date; there’s some pulpy, straight-up unsettling alien activity here – think a Close Encounters of the Freaky Kind. –