Nope (2022) is an amply executed blockbuster with occasional sightings of Jordan Peele’s bliss. They’re like aliens descending from the sky to haunt the Haywood ranch – enough to keep us going, but not enough to make a wholly enticing movie about them.
Art doesn’t necessarily need to reach the depths of the human core, shake the frail DNA strings and leave the audience gasping for air. Sometimes filmmakers crave to crystallize an idea into a feature without ambitions to make a lasting monument. Sometimes, it’s enough to leave viewers intrigued. That’s precisely the case of Nope (2022), where Jordan Peele teases more than he delivers.
Peele plots a riveting beginning that commences even before the film’s first image pops up. Like echoes from an ominous abyss, a sitcom’s voice recordings and laugh tracks flow through the speakers. We learn that there’s someone called Grady and that it’s Grady’s birthday. A chaotic cacophony of screams, shattered glass, and broken items, clamoring, and wailing follows. Peele then cuts to a horrifying shot of a chimpanzee, nervously fiddling behind a sofa, with arms and mouth smeared with blood. There’s a pair of legs lying still behind the couch and a shoe that oddly points in the direction of the sky. End scene.
Peele has learned how to instantly establish a firm grip over his audience within the first few minutes. In a patient, following shot that opens Get Out (2017), we assisted a masked kidnapper who grabbed a stranger off the sidewalk. Here, it’s just as gripping but also far more meaningful in a symbolic way, emphasizing one of Nope’s (2022) core themes of taming a beast. For the Haywood siblings – OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), the interaction with other living beings often carries the element of establishing a bond. The chimpanzee brutally breaks out of the shackles to wreak havoc, and that’s what Nope (2022) grasps onto – the permanent urge to dominate nature, even if it comes flying from the outer world.
Haywoods are ranchers. Not the regular type, though, for they’re the descendants of the first black jockey ever captured on screen. Naturally, taming beasts is their everyday bread. When the head of the family dies cryptically – bleeding out after he’s hit with a coin that fell from the sky – OJ and Emerald need two to come to an agreement as to the future of the ranch. OJ stands by the tradition and continues his father’s business, while Emerald seizes every opportunity to promote a charming range of side hustles – dancing, acting, and plenty more.
Selling the ranch is one way out, though OJ cannot imagine life outside the farm. To make ends meet, he’s forced to sell one of his horses to Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), a far more successful entrepreneur who lives nearby. Upon visiting Ricky, the siblings learn about his past – starring in a sitcom and surviving a chimpanzee attack. Ricky’s made a sweet deal out of this trauma, though, as his secret room – filled with regalia from that fateful day – brings flocks of dark tourists who pay handsomely to stay in a room there. To some degree, you could say that Ricky also mastered the art of taming beasts.
The rivalry between the ranchers isn’t of much interest to Peele, but the differences between them are essential to the plot’s structure. Strange things happen in the Haywood ranch these days, and theories go as far as an extraterrestrial aircraft that scares the horses and causes odd phenomena. OJ and Emerald grow suspicious – they even invest in a set of cameras to observe the sky and the ranch, thus stirring the interest of an eccentric cable guy Angel (Brandon Perea), who suspects what they’re after. The three, joined by an eccentric cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), embark on a quest to solve the mystery of a weird cloud that hangs above the ranch.
To answer what Nope (2022) is about, I’d need to reveal many secrets that Jordan Peele unravels as the story unfolds. The film’s fallible marketing strategy earned its many capes – one of a horror film. Sure, Peele wouldn’t be himself if his film didn’t creep us out a bit, but Nope (2022) sails away from Get Out (2017) and Us (2019) quite dramatically. Its panache draws from Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi adventures, with more emphasis on the latter. Despite the extraterrestrial that often flies over the heads and a few bloody moments, Nope (2022) couldn’t be more straightforward in genre denial.
Come to think about it, the fact that Nope (2022) is so different causes the film to be a hook that – once attached – sticks around for a while. Like a gentle hum that swings from menacing and ominous to lullaby-like and cheerful, so does Nope (2022) in its abundance of themes. Perhaps a little too much too. Peele nostalgically misses the old Hollywood, the one with hearty characters and fantastic adventures that seem too heavy for their shoulders. He brings them moments of heroic glory, accompanied by a soul-stirring score and grand cinematography.
Nope (2022) is also a tribute to filmmaking – its struggles, the sacrifices, and the shivers of going the extra mile to capture the fleeting bliss of one moment caught on camera. Then, it’s also a tale about understanding your place in the food chain – the one concept humanity has denied ever since it stepped foot on Earth.
However loose and often untied these concepts are, Peele’s knack for aesthetically pleasing images is in full swing in Nope (2022) because the flying saucer appears against scenic shots of the sky, night and day, but also because the remote setting of hills, prairies, and modern cowboys carries a western factor to it. Some of the most breathtaking images arrive near the finale when the alien that haunts the Haywoods reveals the exceptional design of geometric shapes, uncanny movement patterns, and colors that make up for one of the most captivating alien concepts in sci-fi history.
Despite its moments of greatness, Nope (2022) takes too long and meanders too often, causing the story to be diluted and troubled with uneven pacing. At times, the plot has no real sense of progress, and Peele seems to patch these drags with details that never come to any meaningful conclusion. I wanted to fall for the magic of Nope (2022), and I partly did. However, there’s a far better film to be extracted here, and it’s a pity we’ll never get to see it.