It’s not what you think; it’s better. Peele’s Nope is Spielberg’s Duel masquerading as Close Encounters.
Haywood Hollywood Horses, a black-owned equestrian training ranch, has been in the movie business since there’s been a movie business. After the sudden death of his father (Keith David), OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) isn’t the go-getter for on-screen jobs his father was, but he’s driven to keep everything going any way he can… including selling a few of Haywood’s horses to Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun) for a neighboring tourist-trap attraction. OJ’s sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) isn’t happy with how the ranch is being run and especially her brother selling off the horses, but neither is she willing to put any work in herself to keep it going. The siblings are compelled to join forces when something unseen spooks the horses in the lonely gulch, embracing an opportunity to prove to the world their father’s death wasn’t some random accident… before it happens again.
With both the genre-busting Get Out and over-ambitious Us under his belt, writer/director/producer Jordan Peele’s third film looks camera-ready to redefine Close Encounters of the Third Kind. With more people looking up than in a Michael Bay film and sprinkled with needful nervous laughter, the slow build from teasers to final trailer intrigues without giving away the game, prepping audiences for arguably the final blockbuster of the summer. With Michael Wincott waiting in the wings as a gruff cinematographer who runs toward danger and Brandon Perea as a conspiracy-theorist techie, is Peele set to unleash something new upon the world of horror, or will audiences down-vote the film using its one-word title?
Leaning heavily into the trope that black characters are smarter than your average white horror victims — the title of Get Out was inspired by the Eddie Murphy comedy routine, for example — the word “nope” comes up just as often as you’d expect, and rightfully so. Shying away from Shyamalan supernatural fare and again doubling-down on metaphysical sci-fi, Peele’s creature feature suggests far more than it says in spite of everything shown, including bringing the visceral bloodletting horror. At just over two hours, it’s too bad Steven Yeun’s Jupe backstory drags down the film’s otherwise energized pace, but it’s a necessary tradeoff to fuel the man vs. other setup. While this Close Encounter channels early Steven Spielberg, the horror and tension it generates is all Jaws and Duel, trying to second-guess the unknown and survive it all at the same time. In terms of sheer going-for-it, Nope may be Peele’s best offering to date.
Wincott’s Antlers Holst is brought in for the third act, adding a wistful aged wisdom to the proceedings: the guy who’s seen too much, lived too long, and yearning for something elusive and intangible; he’s Peele’s much-needed Captain Quint. For the finale, the gloves come off as Peele jerks the steering wheel back onto Close Encounters spectacle, going for the full reveal. Holding this back was a great choice, touching on the wonder of it all, but it’s also the weakest visual element contributing to the average moviegoer’s suspension of disbelief. The ethereal imagery borders on the artificial — even if the texture of it is derived from nature itself — but it thankfully doesn’t occupy enough screen time to undo the previously established goodwill. To put it another way, no one dwells much upon a lizardish dinosaur having feathers after it swallows you whole.
No hip-hop song mash-up this time around; just a solid soundtrack plus the strings on the ol’ Apprehension Engine. With his third film poised to become a success, Jordan Peele knows how to maximize his budget: Get Out was made for under $5 million, Us for $20 million, and Nope reportedly only $40 million. Considering the tickets sold and money made, there’s zero incentive for Mr. Peele to branch out from his horror-comedy-spectacle formula… and that’s more than okay.
Nope is rated R for language throughout, some violence/bloody images, and this wasn’t any Jack the Ripper.
Four skull recommendation out of four
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