Somehow, inexplicably, two of the biggest films of 2022 are also strongly positioned to be some of its finest. First came the miraculous, tactile Top Gun: Maverick, an ode to muscular action cinema on the largest scale possible. Now, storming into a quiet August at the cinemas is Get Out and Us mastermind Jordan Peele’s Nope, a Spielbergian sci-fi-horror-Western mashup brimming with potent ideas and dizzying feats of directorial ambition. Peele is a rare, wonderful beast in the modern cineplex – like Spielberg or Hitchcock, he’s a personality whose name is enough to draw audiences out in droves, tantalised by the promise of event cinema.
And what an event. After the ‘social horror’ of Get Out and the intriguingly uncomfortable, class-warfare fuelled Us, Peele looks skyward for Nope, a reimagining of alien invasion films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Signs for the modern, voyeuristic age. Daniel Kaluuya, the most evocative, enigmatic actor of his generation, stars alongside the livewire, eminently watchable Keke Palmer as OJ and Emerald, the heirs to a family horse-ranch business that caters to Hollywood productions. After the passing of the family patriarch (Keith David), the pair find their business in dire straits, as the powers-that-be turn away from real animals in favour of CGI counterparts. That’s the least of their worries, however, as a real (and terrifying) unidentified flying object is spotted gliding through the clouds over their ranch. Together they endeavour to capture the first legitimate footage of a UFO – and hopefully, the key to riches.
Spectacular, thrilling and thought-provoking in an equal degree, the third, grandest outing for horror auteur Jordan Peele yet is a stirring sci-fi Western with a lot on its mind. It may be Peele’s finest work yet.
This barely scratches the surface of what Peele is up to here – rarely has he been more digressive than he is here, but never without intention. Most tellingly, Peele ducks into the life of Jupe (Steven Yeun), the Haywards’ next-door neighbour, a one-time child star who now peddles a past trauma to fuel his rinky-dink Western theme park. As a child, Jupe was witness to a terrible act of violence, captured in nightmarish flashbacks, deepening the enigma of this fascinating supporting character.
Peele has always been interested in the tropes and mechanics of Hollywood cinema, in peeling back the layers of glitz and glam to discover the darkness that lies beneath, most obviously in his situating of genre stories through the eyes of people of colour, but also in investigating what these tropes reveal about us as viewers. In Nope, everyone is looking to make a buck, in order to survive but also in order to make themselves known to the world. The thorny ethics of watching trauma, and the environment that encourages people of colour to uncover their traumas and put them on display, ties into a bloody, voyeuristic American history lightly referred to in Nope, but never forgotten. It is arguably Peele’s finest work as a director (brought to life by Hoyte Van Hoytema’s widescreen imagery, drawing every drop of glorious Western flavour from massive IMAX cameras) – as he crafts scenes of exhilarating action and deeply disturbing horror, reminding viewers that the most immense canvas can also be a space of ideas.
In cinemas now.
Movie title: Nope (Peele, 2022)
Movie description: Spectacular, thrilling and thought-provoking in an equal degree, the third, grandest outing for horror auteur Jordan Peele yet is a stirring sci-fi Western with a lot on its mind. It may be Peele’s finest work yet.
Date published: August 11, 2022
Author: Jordan Peele
Director(s): Jordan Peele
Actor(s): Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi