“Nope”: Cowboys and Aliens


Source: Universal

Will Teare

Showrunner: Jordan Peele

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea with Michael Wincott and Keith David

Release Date: July 22, 2022

Rating: 3.5/5 

Get Out floored me and the moviegoing public in 2017, and announced Jordan Peele as the most exciting new filmmaker. Us was a little divisive and lost me a little bit in places but the talent in filmmaking he showcased was a significant step up and it cemented Jordan’s place as one of our modern greats. Now, Nope, well, it’s easily Jordan’s biggest achievement in filmmaking to date, but due to Jordan’s thing with elevated horror, he seems to struggle to hit all of his thematic targets while also making a summer blockbuster. 

Nope follows OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) of historic Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, a ranch that rents out their horse training services to film sets. When their father (Keith David) dies under mysterious circumstances, the siblings set out to find the cause. Assisted by a crotchety cinematographer (Micheal Wincott) and a tech-savvy ball of anxiety (Brandon Perea), they try to capture the culprit on camera. Little do they know, the villain may be more sinister and alien than they realize.  

I do love a movie that forces the audience to think and doesn’t hold our hand in tackling a theme. Exploring deep themes through a fun genre film is even better, but this really didn’t stick the landing. Jordan is a major contributor to the subgenre of “elevated horror.” What that means is horror movies that are significantly thematically deeper and more complex than the average slasher to shed light on a real issue and/or fear. Now, I can’t spoil the theme(s), but when I figured it out I felt that the story and where it goes counteracts those themes. Both were extremely nuanced and fun and superbly done, but I couldn’t help but think that the movie would’ve been better if you split them up. The ending, which of course I can’t say why, heavily takes away from everything the thematic developments have fought for. Then again, Jordan is far more knowledgeable in the language of cinema than I am and a whole lot more intelligent, but I really couldn’t pick up what he’s putting down here. 

Another little issue I had was what the general audience will think when stepping into your local theater to see the latest Peele. Due to Peele’s films, he’s found himself in a spot M. Night Shyamalan was in. Both filmmakers have so much hype generated around “the twist.” The spot where the movie shifts on its axis and the real story comes to the forefront. That’s so fun, and it is done well here, but you need to wait quite a while before it happens and it causes some damage to people on their first watch. Rather than observing the movie and seeing what it’s trying to say, you’re left sitting there waiting for the twist or all the horror to start, and it makes for a slow first half. It’s that balance between message and movie that takes away from the movie for me. 

But these criticisms are big picture criticisms, when you go scene by scene and take a look at a clip or screenshot, this movie is near perfect. Hoyte van Hoytema is the cinematographer on this and if you don’t know the name, you’ve seen his work. Her, Dunkirk, Tenet, Ad Astra, Spectre and the big one; Interstellar. Hoytema has become the leading IMAX cinematographer in the film industry and geez can you see why. Night-time shots are absolutely stunning. The way he makes your eyes dart around the screen to catch a glimpse of some alien craft. There are a handful of shots where, and this doesn’t happen too much, I have no clue how they pulled it off. 

Additionally, all the performances are a little too good. Everyone is very present and seems fully invested in the project, but not nearly as much as Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. Coming off an Oscar, Kaluuya hasn’t lost any speed. He’s very muted, unlike Chairman Fred Hampton, but in such a way that fully brought me into who this person is. Palmer is just the opposite. She’s constantly emanating charisma scene after scene and batting a thousand every time. 

To add a big positive, Peele is a cinephile himself, and he really knows a way to my heart. References to movies that are remarkably subtle and work for the story, but all things where if you know, you most definitely see it. Specifically, this one bit of Palmer on a motorcycle made me remarkably happy. Keith David being cast in a horror movie with western elements certainly got me really happy too. 

But to put it all together, this movie still isn’t perfect. It’s close, very close in fact. As days pass, it starts to make more sense and after my eventual second watch, I think this movie can only get better. Until then, we have a ridiculously strong movie that gets significantly bogged down in what it set out to say, but I still can’t help but immediately recommend it to anyone who is even a little bit curious about Jordan Peele’s Nope.