Nope is Close Encounters of the Third Kind for the 21st century. Director Jordan Peele's third movie, following Get Out and Us, is closer to sci-fi than horror, although there are certainly several very creepy sequences in here. It's refreshing to have a filmmaker consistently making original, large-scale pictures in this era of franchises and brands. Peele shrewdly takes a big idea, then zooms in, exploring how it impacts a select group of individuals. At no point was I certain where he was taking me – a trait that made the ride all the more enjoyable.
OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and sister Emerald (Kiki Palmer) are horse trainers who provide animals for Hollywood productions. He's laconic, she's a motormouth. Their long-standing family business has been on a downswing since the death of their father (Keith David), leaving things a little desperate around the remote California ranch where they're based. One afternoon, OJ sees something suspicious flying around in the sky. He tells Emerald about it, and she believes that if they can get it on-camera, the results could bring them financial gain. To accomplish this, the siblings seek assistance from an electronics store worker (Brandon Perea) and a legendary cinematographer (Michael Wincott). A former child actor, Ricky “Jupe” Park, (Steven Yuen) who now runs a nearby theme park, factors in, too. The less you know about his function going in, the better.
Nope is a story filled with mystery. We find out pretty early on what OJ sees, yet many questions exist – how it hides, why it chooses to show itself when it does, what its objective is, and so on. How Ricky figures in evokes wonder, as well. Peele gradually addresses these and other questions, finding just the right moments to reveal new information. Smart pacing is a major reason why the movie casts such a spell. Rather than waiting too long to put pieces of the puzzle together, or rushing the assembly of those pieces, elements gel in a manner that allows suspense to build to maximum levels. Similarly, the plan devised by OJ, Emerald, and team is clever. What they do makes perfect sense in the story's logic, leaving us eager to see whether or not it will work.
Mood proves to be a vital component. Peele and cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema shoot the sky in a menacing fashion. At times, it appears very dark, not like a storm cloud, but like menace itself has manifested in the air above the ranch. During scenes intended to be scary, effective staging delivers the necessary chills. A sequence with a chimp, shot at a slight distance that allows us to observe the big picture of what the animal is doing, is one of the eeriest set pieces in any movie this year. Another, which offers a glimpse inside the object in the sky, creates an uncomfortably claustrophobic vibe. Shots of the object getting close to the characters contain the sound of human voices screaming, giving even more unease to the proceedings.
Nope is, at heart, a human story, though. The extraterrestrial aspect serves to delve into the relationship between OJ and Emerald. Played to perfection by Kaluuya and Palmer, the siblings go from having minor strife to uniting in a meaningful way. The stars bounce off each other nicely, building a dynamic that infuses the movie with a human touch. As with his prior works, Peele also has a point to make. The ending connects to dialogue Emerald speaks at the beginning, making a nice statement about African-American pioneers in the field of cinema.
Perea and Wincott bring a little comic relief, Yuen is excellent, and multiple striking images will linger in your mind after the movie is over. Nope is a great deal of fun, full of excitement and tension. Jordan Peele pulls out all the stops to bring viewers a UFO picture that contains familiar elements, yet assembles them in a unique fashion. He's officially three-for-three.
out of four
Nope is rated R for language throughout and some violence/bloody images. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.