Nuh-uh, nope, nada, nonononono, goodbye, no thank you.
Mankind has a great interest in the unknown. That’s partly why we’ve always been fascinated with the phenomenon of extraterrestrial life and what’s out there in a larger universe. Is there life beyond our small planet? If there is, what is it like? Is it friendly? Fearsome? Frightening? Or violent? Whatever it is, we as a species don’t have the answers to those impossible questions. That’s why the possibilities of aliens excite us and terrify us at the same time.
In Nope, Jordan Peele tackles the alien genre in the unconventional way that only he knows how: with loads of thrills, dark humor, eerie, unsettling tension, and a butt-load of subcontext that will fly right over people’s heads. The biggest obstacle most alien sci-fi films face is being too predictable or similar to each other. Let me assure you that you won’t be able to predict a single thing that happens in Nope: not even what the aliens look like.
In this trippy sci-fi horror flick, Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play OJ and Emerald Hayward, a brother-sister duo who trains and handles horses for film and television productions. But recently, they’ve been noticing some strange happenings around their ranch. Horses vanish in the middle of the night without a trace. The power cuts off randomly at times without any explanation. And one evening, OJ swears that he saw something move through the clouds. Now determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, OJ and Em outfit their whole house with security and recording equipment to capture… whatever it is they think they saw.
Ever since Jordan Peele released his Oscar-winning picture Get Out in 2015, fans have come to expect a few things from the acclaimed horror filmmaker. They expect his films to be highly unconventional and unpredictable. They expect high moments of stress, unease, and tension that make us feel anxious and on edge. They expect visceral, violent moments brilliantly building up to spontaneous moments of dark humor. And they expect his films to carry a deeper theme to them, whether it involves racism, prejudice, neoliberalism, feminism, or wealth inequality.
The best thing that can be said about Nope is that it retains Peele’s trademarks as a director. One of my biggest hangups with most horror movies is that they reveal their penultimate threat way too early so that by the time the climax arrives, it’s lost any and all effect of being fearsome or intimidating. The best horror movies masterfully obscure their villains so that by the time they are revealed, their actions leave an impact and give you a reason to remain afraid for the rest of the movie’s runtime.
Just like the shark in Jaws, Michael Meyers in Halloween, and the Xenomorph in Alien, Jordan Peele shows as little of the aliens as possible throughout the film. That’s because he understands that aliens in and of themselves are not what mankind as a whole fears: it’s what’s unknown about them. About where they come from, what they look like, and what they want from us. Nope asks those questions just like any other alien film does. The difference is once we’ve discovered the answer, we wish we could forget.
And this is a weird compliment for me to make because I don’t usually make it in my reviews, but the sound design in this film is… horrifying. The first time I heard what I thought was the alien’s voice, I thought “That was a weird creative choice to make.” When I realized what the sound actually was later on, it terrified me and sent shivers down my spine.
But while the film is a technical and a visual marvel, the script is unfortunately not as well-refined. For one thing, it lacks the depth and complexion as Peele’s previous works have. While both Get Out and Us had clearly-defined themes about racism, classism, and inequality, Nope is a lot more obscure with its message and portrayal. Which is fine with me: Us was just as subtle in its messaging and relied much more on implication rather than spelling everything out for its audiences. The difference is I understood everything Jordan Peele was trying to tell us at the end of Us. By the time Nope’s credits rolled, I had to piece everything together until I thought to myself “Wait, that’s it?”
Also, while the plot twist near the end of the film was wickedly clever and creative, the alien’s final form in the film is… kind of stupid. And unfortunately, the ending is even worse.
Looking back at Jordan Peele’s wildly successful filmography, Get Out and Us remains to be the greatest achievements of his young directing career so far. Nope lacks the same edge as his previous works do, but it’s still a lot of fun and brings something fresh and unexpected to the alien genre. Thanks to Jordan Peele, I’m never going to look at UFO sightings the same way ever again. I don’t know whether I should be thanking him or just say “Nope.”