NOPE (2022)

Written and Directed by Jordan Peele

The residents of a lonely gulch in inland California bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery.
(IMDB)

There is a lot going on in the latest from Jordan Peele and to discuss the plot in any detail would lead to numerous spoilers that will ruin the experience for you. NOPE is a film that is worth going in to knowing as little as possible so you can just enjoy it as the images literally unfurl in front of you on the screen.

Siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood are thrown together at the family ranch, Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, which is suffering after the unexpected and, frankly, strange death of their father, Otis (Keith David). OJ’s heart isn’t in it and, while Emerald is a natural salesperson, the Ranch is not at the top of her list of career options. With OJ selling horses off to local attraction owner, Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun) it feels as if time is running out for Haywood’s Hollywood Horses after being in the movie business since it began.

However, once they discover a UFO hiding out in the clouds above the ranch, which they suspect was responsible for their father’s death, they see an opportunity to make some cash and put the ranch back on the map. They set about working with local tech geek Angel (Brandon Torres) and film director Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) to capture evidence of the flying saucer and get their “Oprah Shot.” Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, Jupe is also aware of the UFO, and is preparing for a public event to reveal the mysterious visitor to the world… or at least the 40 odd visitors he gets to his ailing theme park.

You will have to go and watch NOPE to find out how all this pans out, but what this set-up highlights some of the main themes of the film, a lot of which centres around the Hollywood system, but also the draw of fame, of being someone; OJ and Emerald want cash and fame, Angel seems to want validation and friendship, pushing himself into OJ and Emerald’s lives, Holst is after the money shot of his career and Jupe is trying to live up to old successes. Jupe’s career as a child actor is a long way behind him, but he clings to it like a comfort blanket, trying to win back the magic that came crashing down around him when a chimpanzee co-star went crazy on set and killed and maimed his co-stars.

We live in a world where everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, and some people will go to crazy lengths to get it. Among other things, NOPE is, perhaps, a cautionary tale about searching too hard or in the wrong place. At one point in the film, OJ realises that looking directly at the UFO is likely to get you killed. It’s time to look away, focus on other things.

NOPE also feels like an homage to the golden era of sci-fi. The paranoid 50s where every, now classic, black and white movie was also a cautionary tale. Back then it was communism, but fast forward 60/70 years and we are now more of a danger to ourselves. Despite the focus changing, Peele does an incredible job of bringing back the spirit of those classics but takes NOPE in a different direction.

I grew up watching those black and white greats whenever they turned up on TV and have a soft spot for a good UFO movie.

And NOPE is a good UFO movie.

The acting and direction is great. There are some beautiful shots of the Californian countryside greatly at odds with the horrors that the UFO brings with it, and I can image this looks even better in the IMAX presentation. The sound design is stunning too, very immersive and, at some points, without going into spoilers, even a little terrifying; it works wonders with the images on screen, making NOPE a cinematic spectacle.

And nowhere is this more evident than in the final act of the film. I have already seen and heard criticism that the ending is at odds with the rest of the movie and complaints that it doesn’t make sense. While we don’t ever get a full explanation of exactly what the UFO is or where it has come from, we don’t really need it – the film isn’t really about that – substitute the UFO with social media, the dangers of fame and it kind of makes a lot more sense! I have often commented about films which don’t make sense, that appear to deliberately try to obfuscate what is going on and appear high-brow and intelligent. NOPE doesn’t do this and, while some of it is open to discussion and debate after the closing credits, there is nothing that isn’t clear once you take time to think about it. I, for one, will look forward to a physical release and repeated viewings.

After Get Out and Us, which I also both love, I think Peele has come up with another winner and a movie that deserves to be seen in the cinema. It’s a personal story on a broad scale and a true spectacle to just let wash over you as you are entertained. It worked for me, and I can’t wait to see what Peele comes up with next.

And I believe it will be a long time before we get a better delivery of the single word ‘nope’ than Daniel Kaluuya.

DONT. LOOK. UP.

Wait, a minute, I see what they did there…

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