by Jacob Wingate-Bishop
Nope is the latest venture by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) – a sci-fi horror about a ranch whose family become plagued with the presence of a powerful, otherworldly force – a force that begins to terrorize their horses, their jobs, and their lives. All the while, they’re searching for the evidence that will convince the rest of humanity, and write their names in the stars.
Okay, so it’s an alien movie, but one with a twist. Difficult to put into words, there’s something altogether different when it comes to Peele’s Nope. With a two-hour runtime, Nope sets its own pace, refusing to pander to anyone else’s. What start off as seemingly separate, unsettlingly graphic chapters, slowly intertwine and create a thoroughly engaging story. The design of what threatens this little ranch in Agua Dulce is fantastic, ambitious, and utterly original, drawing upon the feverish machinations of Neon Genesis Evangelion for inspiration, according to Peele’s notes.
Simply put, Nope does something new with the alien move genre, reinvigorating it for the first time in decades. It’s been so long since we last had a truly great movie about extraterrestrials – the golden age of otherworldly entertainment left long ago in the ‘80s and ‘90s – but at last, Jordan Peele has secured a new future for the genre.
The performances given by in-movie siblings, Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are believable – to make the understatement of the century. Peele, who also wrote the screenplay, has added more than a breath of authenticity to the characters’ behaviour and dialogue. Not only do they seem three-dimensional, but really feel like a brother and sister who have their lives around eachother. Michael Wincott’s Antlers Holst is a wonderfully well-rendered arty type, but one that borders more on the mystifying than the woefully cliché, and one of the best parts of the whole endeavour. Steven Yeun’s forgivably ignorant ‘Jupe’ is one of the most realistic baffoons put to the silver screen in recent years.
Nope is also just one of those films that, cinematically, proves breathtaking at every stage along its story. You could pause it at any time, take any one frame, and preserve it as a desktop wallpaper – or mega-sized poster – forever more. It’s simply an ensnaring watch (particularly one scene involving the colour red. That’s all I’ll say) and captures that sense of the uncanny masterfully.
Of course, beneath the colour palette, the characters and the plot, there’s a thinly-veiled message on taming the untamable, on meddling with forces far greater than we could ever hope to understand – forming pacts with predators and seeking to befriend things bigger than ourselves. It’s a tad on the nose – leave nature be – but nevertheless a point that could not be more relevant in a time of scorching heatwaves and ecological collapse.
Nope is, above all, a modern-day alien movie done right. And that’s no small amount of praise. I fell in love with the characters, I laughed with them, I was paralyzed with fear alongside them. More than once during the film’s runtime, I felt deeply unsettled, even sickened. It’s been a while since a movie’s done that.
It’s full of moments where, especially on first watch, you’re left completely in the dark. But that disarray – that tension, the dread hanging low in the air – is eternal. Peele has put together one of the most thrilling movies of the year, quite possibly the decade. Nope is a treat from start to finish, one that’ll leave you staring up at the stars, eyes narrowed in constant trepidation.