When I first sat down to have a look at Jordan Peele’s (Get Out, Horror Noir) latest film Nope, starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea and Michael Wincott, I was worried there would be nothing left to say a month after release. Peele weaves a story about UFOs and in his typical fashion, invites more questions than he answers. A bit like its major antagonist, Nope gets your attention with small, disquieting actions and unsettling sounds. Then it sucks you in, whole before it’s too late to disengage your head from the primal adrenaline rush.
Nope starts off simply enough with a horse ranch off the inland gulch of Agua Dulce in the San Fernando Valley of California. The Haywoods have eked out a successful living for generations training horses for Hollywood. When Otis Haywood Sr (Keith David, You Might Be the Killer, The Thing) is killed in a freak accident, Otis Junior (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out, Black Messiah), and Emerald (Keke Palmer, Alice, Hustlers), struggle to keep the ranch afloat through their grief.
Otis Jr. (OJ) contemplates selling the ranch. The adult siblings, no longer close, are working together on a commercial shoot with one of their horses. When the job falls through, OJ takes his horse, Lucky, over to another resident of the gulch to sell. That resident is Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun, Minari, Burning), the owner of Jupiter’s Claim, a Western theme park close enough to be neighbours with the Haywoods. Horses have been in demand for Jupe’s little sideshow, and we’re about to learn the sickening reason why.
During Lucky’s sale to Jupe, the taciturn OJ allows his bubbly, vivacious sister Emerald to tag along, which ends up revealing more about Jupe to him than the situation otherwise might. Jupe is only too eager to share with the Haywood siblings the details of his fame as a child star. He enjoyed fame on the short-lived sitcom Gordy’s Home before an incredibly traumatic event occurred.
The titular Gordy was a trained chimpanzee raised by a nuclear human family. During the filming of the episode that celebrates Gordy’s birthday, a balloon popped. Gordy snapped and killed or injured most of the cast. Only two people survived, a young woman who played Ricky’s sister and Ricky himself. As viewers of a Peele movie, it’s our job to make sense of how the two stories, the Haywoods and Ricky, are linked together.
In trying to catch the unexplained phenomenon terrorizing their ranch on film, the Haywoods hire a tech guy, Angel Torres (Brandon Perea, American Insurrection. Dance Camp) to install their security cameras, and a world-class cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott; The Crow, Westworld, Forsaken), to help them catch a celluloid glimpse of the action. This unlikely crew is assembled to cement their place in history, and the plan goes off with a suitably dramatic series of hitches.
Overall, the way Peele weaves a story together is masterful, but those who like a slow burn and a healthy dose of social commentary with their horror will get more out of this film than those just looking for jump scares. There isn’t any body horror really to be found in this film.
The scariest, goriest moments actually happen slightly off-screen, with Peele putting the action just slightly out of the viewer’s sightline and augmenting the scares with the most chilling audio effects in recent memory. Some of the best effects in the film are the wonderfully queasy aftereffects of some of the attacks. Part of the beauty in a horror film like this is getting the audience to use their imaginations. Given that this is the first Peele film I’ve seen, I look forward to checking out his more famous titles like Us and Get Out! now.
Nope is now out as of July 22nd, 2022 at a multiplex theatre near you via Universal Pictures. No date has been announced for Blu-ray, VOD or Digital release, you can check the film’s website for announcements. And you can check FilmTagger for suggestions of what to watch while you wait.