The director’s new film, “Us,” stars Daniel Kaluuya as a California rancher who must protect his family and ranch from a deadly force from above. Read now Nope – Movie Review.
In this slice of cinema, which is self-consciously deconstructive, a character theorizes that the monster (whatever it may be) is most dangerous when being watched. It’s an idea that originates from the Greek myth of Medusa (one gaze will turn you to stone) and was brought back in 2018 in Susanne Bier’s post-apocalyptic chiller Bird Box (one look will make you kill yourself). Even more than that, it’s cheekily reflected in Adam McKay’s current Don’t Look Up, in which Trumpian officials argue that avoiding the death of a comet by not looking at it might be accomplished by simply not looking at it.
In No, horse wrangler/trainer Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr (Daniel Kaluuya), trying to avoid the deadly attentions of whatever sky-bound occurrence is terrorizing his California ranch by avoiding eye contact, may be seen. OJ’s family, which includes a tragic father Otis Sr (Keith David), and fame-seeking sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), proudly promotes itself as direct descendants of Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century images of a rider and horse – a precursor of the modern film – in which an unnamed jockey was depicted. Now the Haywood ranch offers their film and TV productions with horses (“the only black-owned horse trainers in Hollywood”), although OJ may have to sell them to Ricky “Jupe” Park’s nearby theme park. But then strange signs in the sky give either an unhoped-for opportunity or a “bad miracle” …
Despite the fact that there are numerous OJ spoilers throughout, it’s best to catch him off guard and spend some time wondering “WTF is going on?!” Suffice to say, Peele takes influence from a wide range of sources, including the awestruck human perplexity of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the eerie angelic forms of Neon Genesis Evangelion (unintentionally?) and M Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. He also takes inspiration from Antonioni’s swinging 60s parable Blow-Up, Sidney Poitier’s 1970s western Buck and the Preacher (a poster for which hangs on the ranch wall), Katsuhiro Otomo’s 80s manga Akira (for which Peele was once hired to remake), and even Ron Underwood’s cult desert-bound 90s monster movie Tremors. More significantly, he steals (or “homages to”) the iconic chases from Jaws, using inflatable air dancers in place of those floating yellow barrels that made Spielberg’s shark all the scarier when unseen.
From this flavorful stew, Peele creates an elliptical (and frequently frustratingly paced) narrative about our inclination to stare in astonishment at risk, disaster, and tragedy. This isn’t anything new for moviegoers who’ve spent a century absorbingly gazing upon the furious wrath of early biblical epics (Nope begins with an Old Testament threat to “make you a spectacle”) or today’s catastrophe disasters like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. In recent films, we have had directors of photography who are able to capture the end-of-the-world catastrophes on screen well. For example, Hoyte van Hoytema did an excellent job with Interstellar. In this sense, it is no surprise that The Beast would also be captured beautifully. Although Michael Wincott’s character may verge on caricature at times, he does manage to use a hand-cranked camera effectively to “capture” the beast after Angel (Brandon Perea) discovers that his target eats electricity for breakfast.
There’s a neat little irony in writing an Imax-friendly essay on the dangers of staring. And beyond the strange sci-fi spectacles and beautifully rendered night views, Nope’s warnings about aggravating an opponent – whether it’s a startling chimp or an amorphous sky blob – by looking them in the eye have a realist ring to them (perhaps OJ’s adversary is a metaphor for white supremacy)? Peele’s talent to integrate these fascinating concepts with the physically demanding requirements of blockbuster filmmaking makes this film more debatable than enjoyable, making it a better movie to discuss than watch. Remember, just because Jaws wasn’t “about” a shark doesn’t mean it didn’t move like one. Like the brilliantly horrifying sitcom bloodbath that serves as Nope’s attention-grabbing curtain-raiser, the film too often seems to be heading somewhere extraordinary only to fall into an ambitious conceptual hole that while occasionally startling is ultimately less than its potential.
Movie Name: Nope
Watch free: Cinemahdv2
Cast Leads: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun
Director: Jordan Peele
Producer: Ian Cooper
Written by: Jordan Peele
Music: Michael Abels
Director Of Photography: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Movie Rating: 3.5/5