In the wake of the second trailer for Jordan Peele’s third outing as a director, a lot of people started complaining that too much had been given away. The ad outright showed a spaceship hiding in the clouds! The mystique was gone! Woe!
I promise, if you haven’t seen Nope yet and had that sentiment, you have no idea what all you are in for. The trailer didn’t give away too much at all. Not by a long shot.
I’ll be honest, whether it was the first trailer or the second trailer, I was just happy Nope finally came out so I could stop seeing a trailer for it before every damned movie I went to. I feel like I had been seeing trailers for Nope as long as I’d been seeing them for Morbius. It is Jordan Peele’s third effort behind the camera after Get Out and Us! You didn’t need to advertise this for months; I was already in!
With Nope, Peele has finally settled in as a filmmaker who makes such good films–movies with such powerful intensity and charming characters and brilliant use of score and music–that I don’t worry about how much sense the movie fails to make until afterwards. And even then, I don’t care.
I remember seeing Us, one of the few movies in my adult life that actually put shivers in my spine, and then spending the entire aftermath of the movie doing the “Well wait, what about…?” game with my wife. I’m not going to lie; we did the same thing with Nope. I will say that Nope holds up to scrutiny a little better than Us, but it also didn’t fill me with the same sense of dread as its predecessor. Let’s call it a wash; I liked them both equally: a great deal.
Okay, I’m having a bit of a hard go of tip-toeing around spoilers for Nope, so let me get into those for a bit. If you have not seen the movie and don’t want to get spoiled, ALL OF THE SPOILERS WILL BE BETWEEN THE FIRST AND SECOND IMAGES FROM THE FILM! You’ve been warned!
Nope isn’t about a spaceship/UFO/flying saucer/whatever you want to call an alien spacecraft. Though it does lead you to believe it is for the first two acts as the Haywood siblings, Em and OJ, discover one hiding above their property and find themselves determined to catch it on film and become famous. But I’ll get to the reveal in a bit.
The Haywoods are a horse-training ranch outside of Hollywood who have fallen on hard times. They are having to resort to selling off their horses to stay afloat, and a nearby theme park owner is trying to get them to sign the whole ranch over to him.
After their father is killed when random personal effects (keys, coins, other belongings) start raining from the sky, Em and OJ see a UFO on their property scaring their horses. Em convinces her brother they can be the first people to get clear and undeniable footage of such a thing, so they set about figuring out how to do so.
This gets Angel involved in the story, an off-brand Geek Squad type employee who figures out what they are doing when he installs the cameras on their ranch. A visionary director, Holst, is eventually convinced to come aboard, too, when the Haywoods’ claims become too powerful to be falsified.
The Old West style theme-park next door is owned by Jupe, a former child actor with a gloriously tragic backstory of which the movie gives you a hint at in the form of its creepy opening scene. Jupe seemingly knows the ship is there and has decided to monetize its presence by giving horses to it in front of a live crowd. This goes… as well as can be expected, and it is in the aftermath of the carnage when OJ, arriving to retrieve his horse Lucky, realizes the truth.
What is hiding in the clouds is not a ship at all; it is some kind of living creature with all the behaviors and triggers of a hungry animal.
This ties together Jupe’s history and an earlier scene where the Haywoods are let go from a movie on which they are working when Lucky gets spooked, finally making everything you’ve seen to that point start making sense. The whole movie has been telling you this is about the precarious relationship between predator and prey all along. OJ realizes that the creature takes eye contact as an act of aggression, so it only feeds on whatever looks at it.
This leads to a third act of the Haywoods, Angel, and Holst putting their plan in motion to get the beast on film… and trying not to get eaten in the process.
I mentioned that there are a lot of things that don’t make a lot of sense, or happen just because this is a movie, that you may not think about until after the flick. Some of those for me include:
-Holst just sacrificing himself and the footage of the creature to its hunger after the plan has succeeded. We’re not really given any hints or reason for this (Holst just says “We don’t deserve the impossible”), and it happens purely to inject some more action into the climax.
-Additionally, a TMZ cameraperson shows up during their attempts to get shots, and his inconvenient arrival is just to add some drama and give us another victim for the monster.
-The woman under the veil that the trailers kept showing you? With the weird skeletal face? She serves no purpose to the movie other than to be something creepy they can put in the trailers. And that is what it is! But seriously, if her character never showed up, absolutely nothing changes. It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch.
It’s stuff like that. Some of it is just Movie Stuff–the inexplicable moments that happen that make you think “Well that’s not realistic”, but if they don’t happen, the movie is thirty minutes shorter. In worse movies–or movies that feel longer–that stuff bothers me more. Honestly, none of those things really got to me until discussing the flick on the way home. During the show? I was too caught up in the tension and powerful story of it all.
The performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer (Palmer in particular) really buoy this effort and kept me in its grip even when some of the plot aspects got a touch out of hand. Kaluuya is playing a very subdued character here, but mostly in the sense that you get he’s not used to working with people. Even when dealing with Hollywood, you can tell he is used to his father or sister doing all of the talking. But when it’s time for him to react, he gives very realistic feeling to everything going on to him.
Palmer is just a ball of energy here. Incredibly charismatic and entertaining. It’s her electricity that lets Kaluuya’s understated performance work. She feels like she is ready to just pinball off the walls every scene she is in.
So while the movie doesn’t have the tightest writing I could ask for, it does have genuinely brilliant cinematography, direction, and acting. Admittedly, I’m usually a story-oriented guy; if a movie’s writing doesn’t work for me, it gets really hard for me to focus on anything else. But there’s something about Jordan Peele where… I just don’t care as much as usual. I loved Us. I thoroughly enjoyed Nope.
Ari Aster and Robert Eggers are two comparable modern directors that people like a lot more than I do. When I watch their movies, I can’t help but feel like they are trying to bury weak writing under gimmicky visuals and shock value shots. With Peele I don’t get that sense. His movies feel like more well-rounded projects. The writing is the weakest piece of the puzzle, but nothing else comes across as trying too hard in an effort to get you to not think about that. Everything just comes together in such a way that it commands my attention. He’s not TRYING to make a good movie; he’s just making a good movie.
Does that make sense? To anyone but me?
Probably not. Your mileage may vary, of course!
It’s not as important and gut-punching as Get Out. It’s not as creepy and off-putting as Us. But being the third best outing when those are the other two is no shame. Peele has cemented himself as an incredibly talented and gripping director who just doesn’t falter and whose projects are can’t-miss events.