Reviewing Nope is a strange experience. There are certainly flaws with reviews in a vacuum – inability to address popular complaints or concerns, falsely believing you are being entirely creative by writing ‘Nope gets a big Yep’ – but they also offer a greater sense of impartiality and criticism without influence. With Nope currently in the public zeitgeist in the US, half of reviewing it has involved avoiding the conversation around it. After finally getting my eyes on it, all I have to say is Nope gets a big Yep from me.
To call it Jordan Peele’s Nope is to do more than merely inform you of the director. While this is only Peele’s third feature, his name has become evocative of a style of biting satire, social commentary, and an unsettling intensity. Peele’s name has quickly become less of a noun and more of an adjective. With Nope, it feels like he is acutely aware of what people think Jordan Peele means (and does not mean), and wants to challenge those preconceptions.
Both Get Out and Us are atypical horror movies, but Nope is not a horror movie at all. Yet at the same time, it features the single-most terrifying and disturbing scene of Peele’s work to date. This is typical of what Nope does to Peele’s canon. It’s both his most simple and most complex movie. It lacks the focused driving plot of his other work, and at times even drifts into aimlessness, but it also forces you to think a little bit harder.
Get Out and Us feel like they have a ‘correct’ reading. Nope is more open to interpretation, but that takes away some of the sting. Get Out pushes itself in your face until you can feel its breath, while Nope lingers as a shadow down the alley. Red’s croaked out reply of “We’re Americans…” is the best summary of the sorts of stories Peele tells, but rather than examining how America treats its citizens, Nope seems to look at how America treats its filmmakers.
Fittingly then, Nope is his most gorgeous film yet. The night scenes stand out particularly. There are better frame-by-frame directors working today (Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson come to mind), but Peele might be the best at shooting in darkness. The moonlit scenes of Daniel Kaluuya and his horse are my favourite shots this year.
It lacks the distinctive aesthetic of Us, but out of all Peele’s films it has the biggest scope, the most interesting landscapes, and feels the most playful in its visuals. Much like Jaws, which Peele’s latest clearly takes several cues from, Nope uses the unseen spectacularly and in doing so offers a refreshing take on the summer blockbuster. It’s no accident that in a story featuring various characters exploited by Hollywood, pulled forward by a desire to catch everything on film, that the movie’s driving force is an elusive beast that evades the audience constantly.
With less of a concrete plot in place, carrying the movie falls to the cast themselves more than it does in Peele’s other movies, but the main trio step up to the plate. Kaluuya underplays his hand constantly to great effect, bringing a stillness and grit to proceedings that act both as an anchor and to underpin the unsettling events of the movie. Keke Palmer, on the other hand, provides a sense of raucous energy that plays off Kaluuya perfectly. The two have a naturalistic and fascinating dynamic, but both also excel when acting alone.
The third in the aforementioned trio is not, as you might expect from the posters, Steven Yeun, but instead Brandon Perea, who makes a fantastic breakout here. Yeun plays a different sort of turn for him, but has a disappointingly small role, as does Barbie Ferreira who feels grossly underused. Michael Wincott arrives late but makes a huge impression once he’s in the mix. There’s nothing on the level of Lupita Nyong’o in Us, but Peele demonstrates a much greater trust in his cast to do their thing than many horror directors allow for.
Jordan Peele was turned into an adjective because we seem to lack a fitting description for his works, but Nope is undefinable in a fresh new way. You shouldn’t go into it expecting to see ‘a Jordan Peele film’, but you should leave with a fresh idea of what ‘a Jordan Peele film’ means.
Nope is a new style of summer blockbuster, and in a movie landscape where blockbusters seem to need capes and spandex to fly, it’s a refreshing and much needed experience. It was on my way down to see my screening of Nope that I heard Batgirl, fully complete at a cost of $90 million, was being thrown out because the studio had formed a new “corporate strategy”. In a strange way, it feels like Nope is about exactly that.
Score: 4.5/5. TheGamer was invited to a UK press screening for this review. Nope is in UK cinemas August 12.
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