Nope is the third film from visionary director Jordan Peele and, solidifies his position as a Genre filmmaker.
Nope centres around horse trainer/wrangler OJ (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and, his sister Emerald (played by Keke Palmer) who are left with the responsibility of running their father Otis’ ranch (played by the legendary Keith David) after he dies under bizarre circumstances.
OJ is brooding, and silent with the weight of the world resting upon his shoulders whereas, Emerald is sassy, confident, and full of chatty energy.
OJ has a special bond with his horses, and doesn’t appear to have a social life or, any social connections outside of the ranch, and his family.
After their father dies, Emerald inserts herself into her brother’s life, his affairs, and his mounting debt.
A competitor ranch owner Jupa (played by Steven Yeun) who hosts grandiose, spectacle-chasing shows offers to buy some of OJ’s horses with the intention of using them in a new show he is planning.
Jupe’s actions may have directly triggered a series of dangerous, disturbing events which befall the neighbouring ranches.
Nope opens with OJ giving safety training to a group of filmmakers, and actors who have hired him to feature one of his personal horses in their production.
The crew show zero respect for OJ’s warnings around horse safety, and less respect still for his beloved horse.
OJ is different; he carries the burden of trauma in his face, upon his shoulders, and within his speech mannerisms- the crew do not react positively to his mono symbolic talk but instead, light up with laughter and acceptance the moment Emerald enters the room.
Emerald emanates gusto, personality, and infectious laughter: the juxtaposition between the two siblings is never as apparent as when we witness how differently they respond to their environments, and the people therein.
I empathised deeply with OJ, and I immediately understood his sad frustration around feeling invisible, unheard, and unseen.
This ability of blending into the background may be the very quality which saves OJ’s life as the plot progresses.
Back at their ranch, OJ and Emerald fall into a rhythm and thrum of routine; OJ is single-minded in his desire to care for his horses and he’s determined to keep things ticking over while Emerald indulges in laughter, dancing, and persistent chatter trying to fill the void of their absent father.
During their first night together at the Haywood family ranch, the siblings notice a disturbing onslaught of noise spilling from the night sky.
I promise that this sound will haunt your dreams; it is the distorted sound of dozens of screams, both human and animal which appears to stalk OJ as he wanders around in the dark.
OJ looks up to catch a glimpse of a flying disc shape, moving away from him unnaturally fast which he later recounts to Emerald as ‘’Moving too fast. It’s BIG.’’
I feel like the first Slow-burn segment of Nope worked incredibly well for me; the initial glimpses we catch of a speeding UFO, coupled with the otherworldly screams which signal its arrival creeped me out far more than I was expecting.
Now, onto spoilers…
I understand that the underlying theme of Nope is the theme of Spectacle or, rather the human drive for Spectacle.
Peele’s decision to reveal his villain in all its foul glory in the final segment makes sense, after all, each of our main characters earn a living from Spectacle but I do feel that showcasing a terrifying creature in full daylight cannot help but detract from the initial feeling of unease and uncertainty which plagues Nope.
Perhaps, this is also part of Peele’s game; we spend the entirety of the movie guessing what this terrifying villain could be and, in true Lovecraftian terror, our preconceptions are crushed by the cold-blooded reality of it simply being a predator that lives to hunt, and to eat us.
I loved the unique way in which Peele subverted our cultural expectations; we live in a world fascinated with the idea of UFO’s or, UAP’s: Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon as cheekily described by Nope’s comic relief Angel Torres (played by Brandon Perea).
Angel works at Fry’s Electronics (a real-life electronics store which went out of business) and meets OJ & Emerald when they shop at Fry’s for surveillance cameras.
Collectively, we were all expecting the reveal to be what the creatures inhabiting the UFO look like when, in fact, the UFO ship was a Red Herring; the ship itself IS the creature.
OJ was the first to figure out this revelation; he warned that ‘’It’s not a SHIP’’ early on, and many did not interpret this clue at first.
There are many people online who are describing the most disturbing chapter of this film as being the infamous Gordy The Chimp incident however, the scene which curdled my blood is when we see Jupe’s loyal fanbase of customers who are unwittingly made part of his bloody spectacle.
The Gordy segment was inspired by the real-life story of Charla Nash who was horrifically mauled by her friend’s Chimpanzee Travis; a television and film actor who even appeared in advertisements for Coca Cola.
Travis belonged to Nash’s friend Sandra Herold who was rumoured to be in an inappropriate relationship with Travis; the pair even shared a marital bed.
When Charla visited Sandra and Travis one day, the chimp became aggressive towards her.
Travis was known to be protective of Sandra, and it is believed that when Charla made direct eye contact with Travis, he became very aggressive and proceeded to maul and mutilate her, resulting in extensive surgery and both face and hand transplants for Charla.
Travis was shot dead at the scene by responding officers.
It is said that making direct eye contact with an unsociable animal is a signal of danger, or an aggressive display: the animal will interpret this as either a threat or, a challenge.
It is revealed early on that Jupe, a former child actor was present during Nope’s infamous chimp attack flashback where his life was spared when Gordy rampaged his way around a television studio, killing all cast and crew except for Jupe, who he left unharmed and, his co-star whom Gordy proceeded to savage, beat and, feast upon her face before the police shot him on sight.
When Jupe recalls these events, he presents himself as warmly recounting the memory; he smiles, laughs, pauses, but as an audience we are privy to his horrifying flashbacks and the lingering Trauma which these have left upon his psyche.
Jupe is somewhat Egotistical and, we get the impression that he believes that Gordy spared his life out of mutual respect and understanding; this narcissistic misconception that he has a special bond with ‘the other’ or, wild animals is what leads Jupe to his death.
What saves Jupe as a child is a ‘Bad Miracle’- because he is transfixed upon a bloodied shoe which is standing perfectly upright in his line of vision as he hides from Gordy, he inadvertently avoids making eye contact with the animal.
In present day, Jupe is desperately trying to wrangle in new customers to his ranch/ Western amusement park in which he capitalises upon the novelty of his business being smack in the middle of UFO Country.
It is during this segment that we are privy to Jupe’s reason for buying so many horses from OJ; he is using them as bait to draw in the UFO which he has tried to incorporate into his live show.
Jupe welcomes his fans and asks that they patiently remain in their seats for the upcoming spectacle with a firm warning to not use flash photography or, to point their phone cameras at the alien ship.
They do not listen.
What transpires next genuinely made my blood run cold.
It is pure Lovecraftian Horror which also triggered my irrational fear: Casadastraphobia- the fear of falling into or being sucked into the sky.
Peele has a knack for using subversive themes, irrational fears, and the language of Trauma to utilise his World-Building, and Nope is no exception.
When OJ’s UFO creature flies low to Jupe’s excitable crowd, everyone proceeds to stare, to point their cameras and to maintain eye contact with what is essentially a large predator which has a huge all-seeing eye.
As the crowd are sucked up into a vortex emanating from the creature’s mouth, we hear the distorted, dying screams of people and animals residing within its belly chamber.
The crowd are forced to listen to the dying as they are claustrophobically pulled into its gullet; limbs tangle with other limbs, people look upwards to see the digesting bodies of former victims, the fleshy folds envelope the suffering as they are pulled deeper into the gastric recesses to be slowly digested and consumed alive.
Both my Claustrophobia and my Casadastraphobia were triggered, and the idea of people being slowly, excruciatingly digested alive for hours and days is pure nightmare juice.
Back at the Haywood Ranch, Peele gifts us another nightmare scene in which the UAP which OJ has nicknamed Jeanjacket after the first horse he tames hovers over the family ranch.
Its otherworldly screams heighten as it proceeds to ‘rain’ metal objects such as coins, keys, jewellery and scraps down before culminating in a scene of Biblical proportions.
The UAP literally rains blood down on the house, and I realised that this was in fact, the creature defecating what it could not consume of its poor victims.
This notion of Jeanjacket holding its victims in its stomach as it slowly digests them alive must be the worst movie fate of the past decade- I still think about it.
This Biblical scene echoes the undertones of religious terror felt throughout Nope; Jeanjacket even resembles the Seraphim- a flying genus of Angels made entirely of wings and one large eye.
Early in the movie, OJ ask his sister: ‘’What’s a Bad Miracle?’’ and we are left pondering whether we are meant to witness these at all; our morbid curiosity and, our pull towards grim spectacle may very well spell our doom as a species.
Peele employs his usual cunning foreshadowing in Nope; Gordy’s vicious attack is triggered by balloons popping- this scene literally echoes the solution for destroying Jeanjacket in the film’s penultimate moments.
OJ’s ability to speak an animal’s language is what allows him to tame and train them; a skill which he utilises to lead the creature to its death at the hands of his sister.
What I enjoyed about Nope were its Lovecraftian Horror, its religious euphemisms for humankind’s Ego and dominion over animals which will eventually lead to our downfall as a species and, its never-before-seen version of a UAP which, like nature is both beautiful and horrifying.
The idea being that, if we can name an animal, we can tame an animal belies our own respect for wild creatures; OJ understands our otherness to predators and how best to live alongside them.
I enjoyed Peele’s iconic use of music; the scene where Angel’s van stalls as his stereo blares ‘Sunglasses At Night’ is particularly clever, and equally haunting.
The song’s lyrics: ”I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Watch you weave then breathe your story lines
And I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Keep track of the visions in my eyes” foreshadows the solution for surviving Jeanjacket- cover your eyes, and do not stare directly at it.
Jeanjacket first hides from humans, hiding its form behind a cloud yet always monitoring us much like how we monitor wild animals behind glass cages, and the lives of strangers through the internet.
Nope also boasts an impressive soundscape/ sound design, using Sonics DDP and DTS-X.
The nightmarish, distorted Screams follow you around in the theatre, and you can feel Jeanjacket’s sky- piercing sonic booms in the speakers underneath your seat.
The sound quality adds to the bizarre, immersive feel which Nope has, planting you firmly amongst the action.
Nope meanders between familial Drama, Horror, Sci-fi and social commentary which lends it a disjointed feel, and bleeds it of any real tension.
After the initial shock of what Jeanjacket really is wears off, we are left confusingly waiting for the conclusion or, simply the point.
Yes, the message focuses on our obsession with spectacle, from pointing cameras in the faces of wild creatures, or clamouring after fame at the risk of our own safety but overall, Nope was leading up to its own conclusion of showing its audience what a large studio budget can provide in the way of…spectacle.
Peele includes homages and nods of the head to other Genre films such as Close Encounters, Jaws, Fire In The Sky, Westerns, Tremors and even Akira with an impressive bike slide from Emerald but it does not respect the human need for mystery, the anticipation of a slow reveal, and importantly, not showing your movie monster up close and in daylight.
Michael Wincott plays Antlers Holst who is Nope’s White Hunter character: a wildlife director with an obsession to find the ultimate predator.
I found Holst to be a last minute addage to the roster of lovable characters
His inclusion is solely to make sense of the movie’s narrative: he is the white man obsessed with hunting the untamable predator, and he’s the only person who can catch Jeanjacket on film.
This is a shame given his abilities as a character actor.
I loved every single character and, Angel quickly became my favourite with his wry, nihilistic humour and, way of effortlessly befriending people, however, Nope ultimately cannot decide if it’s a character study or, a study in filmmaking.
Although disjointed, Nope packs enough humour, upbeat dialogue and sun-soaked daylight scenes to juxtapose the night-time horrors which it presents, resulting in a dolly mixture of genres.
What haunted me long after the credits rolled was Emerald’s speech early on; she states that the first moving images which would serve as a prototype for film featured her Great, Great, Great (another Great!) Grandfather as the first black stuntman/ horse wrangler/ actor ever featured in moving pictures- yet nobody remembers his name-they instead only remember the white director behind the camera.
Nope climaxes with the Haywood’s and Angel defeating Jeanjacket; Emerald has just enough time to photograph the creature which sherefers to as her ‘Oprah Shot’.
However, as Emerald lies exhausted in the dirt, proud of everything she and her POC brother and friend Angel have achieved, the camera pans over to a greedy mob of white journalists descending upon her victory- will the Haywood’s be remembered as the family who helped save the planet from aliens or, will people simply forget the poor black family who happened to live upon the UAP’s territory?
Will the media once again, edit history to suit their own narrative, THEIR version of events… their own unique spectacle?
Nope is now showing in theaters.