MOVIES: Nope – Review

Spoilers

Nope is the latest masterpiece from Jordan Peele; on the back of the incredibly good Get Out and Us, and has finally arrived in the UK – its release date inexplicably delayed, we can only speculate, because nobody told Universal Pictures that the FIFA World Cup was happening in the winter this year and not in the summer, where it would regularly take place and have a knock on effect on movie schedules in the UK.

The sense of dread and looming threat of despair is ever present in Nope from the start; a ranch with deep connections to Hollywood’s past in the middle of nowhere finds itself under attack by a mysterious being of unexplained nature. That’s about as simple as a plot as I can give without dovetailing into spoiler territory – and this is a very hard movie to talk about without spoilers. OJ and Em Haywood, brother and sister, Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer – have Hollywood royalty in their blood – related to the first movie actor, and use that as a publicity stunt for their ranch. Both characters find themselves fighting for their lives – and fighting in order to capture that one perfect shot – their big Oprah moment; never before has a horror movie justified its need for characters not to get out of the location that they’re in and stay the hell away from the strange events happening around them quite as spectacularly, providing OJ and Em with a unique sense of agency rarely befitted to other protagonists of the genre.

The film explores living with the concept of neverending everyday horror being broadcast into our screens and runs with it. A childhood flashback to a traumatising television event scars Steven Yeun’s character; Jupe – and all three characters’ lives are shaped by tragedy. “What’s a bad miracle?” OJ asks one night in the ranch – pondering the unlikely chances of something wonderous; but terrifying – happening to them. It’s certainly a moment that plays into the suspense and dread of it all – and Peele is an expert at creating a sense of dread. He puts everything into the atmosphere and crafts a stellar sense of tension that runs paramount throughout Nope – taking cues from multiple genre concepts and putting them all into one film. There’s lots of Spielberg references here, with Peele paying attention to the masters of the genre. I’m fascinated to see how this thing ages overtime as more people get the chance to watch it, it feels like something that will only benefit from multiple watches.

The commentary on the territorial nature of Hollywood is devastatingly on point. Right from the start, there’s nods to classic movie pictures and even; of all things – the CW network. There’s plenty of meta in-jokes that will play really well to those in the know, if you could call it that – the CW joke is one of the funnier lines in the film – and the references to films like The Scorpion King play a direct role; but unlike most reference-heavy films Nope feels more like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood than Ready Player One; more Cowboys & Aliens done the right way, nothing feels fanservicey or pandering – it aids the story first and foremost. The film pokes fun at the state of modern media and social media; and does so in the way that only someone as aware of what he’s constructing as Peele can pull off. The genre tropes are there from the start and Peele deploys them with expert care and precision – crafting something unique in the process. The actors are in tune with this; both Kaluuya and Palmer are excellent – with a charismatic Palmer putting in one of the best blockbuster performances of the year, and the film is all the better for it.

It’s an example of working within the studio format yet Peele, rather than feeling the need to look cheap or exploitative, crafts something with care and precision that hits all the classic tropes and makes them work. It doesn’t need to be as subtle as Get Out or Us but rather hits the audience with the force of a blunt sledgehammer; and dares them to look away – even for a second, and what makes this film work is that it isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. Confidence is the thing that separates just using the tropes from knowing how to use the tropes – and Peele has it in spades.

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