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'Nope' review: Jordan Peele looks to the sky in tense sci-fi chiller

Courtesy of Universal Pictures


“What do you call a bad miracle?” asks Otis Junior (OJ) one of the main characters in Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” an ambitiously organic sci-fi chiller equal parts influenced by John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg, but deeply layered in rich subtext about ownership, influence, and power. If “Get Out” taught audiences about the horrors of society through the lens of disenfranchised populations, and “Us” said the duality of class systems were made to be broken, then Peele’s third outing behind the camera says the only way to live with the terrors of tomorrow, is by documenting the events of today. So a “bad miracle,” thanks to sheer luck and tenacity, might in the end turn out to be something lucrative. Or so Peele, who wrote and produced, tries to gauge. 

Peele, doing his best to steer the career path of Alfred Hitchcock as opposed to M. Night Shyamalan, has created a modern-day and nightmarish monster movie in the vein of “Close Encounters” where the twists and surprises are steeped in weird atmospheric tension, it’s easy to get distracted by what’s happening behind door number two. “Nope” is a textbook example of a filmmaker tampering with audiences expectations, slithering its way through a breezy two-hours of cackling one-liners and compelling circumstances only to briefly stumble in the end as it tries offering a resounding, but ultimately divisive conclusion. But the world is better with filmmakers like Peele taking audacious risks: plus it doesn’t hurt Christopher Nolan staple, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema gives the film a sheen western cinematic glow and composer Michael Abels unleashes a chilling, old-fashioned accompaniment to aid the films already grueling and sometimes nail-biting unease. 

The marketing would have you believe “Nope” revolves around an alien invasion, however, the majority of “Nope” takes place on a remote horse ranch outside Los Angeles, allowing for the director to craft a domestic tale reminiscent of Shyamalan’s “Signs” minus the laughable last second twist. The current ranch occupants are OJ (Daniel Kaluuya, reuniting with the director following “Get Out”) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) who inherited their late father’s ranch and have been struggling to keep the family business of providing Hollywood caliber/trained horses for movies and television in the black. To keep the lights on, OJ has been selling head to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), the proprietor of an amusement park/tourist attraction named “Jupiter’s Claim” conveniently located in the middle of nowhere. 

Soon thereafter, OJ witnesses a strange object floating (and occasionally falling) in the sky, but any attempts to capture the footage crumbles because whenever the UFO rolls around, car batteries die, the power goes out, and horses go crazy. So himself and Emerald concoct a plan that brings aboard a local Geek Squad-esq technician (Brandon Pera, hilarious) and a renowned filmmaker known for his off-the-cuff, analog antics (Michael Wincott) to snap any documentation of whatever the hell is hiding in the clouds. As OJ is a man of very little words, he wants to make sure future generations can’t erase whatever the group uncovers, which, thanks to the wicked mind of Jordan Peele, is perhaps more than what audiences bargained for.

Except a good majority of “Nope” rests on the laurels of redefining generational legacies and taking ownership of what belongs to you. That may involve Peele taking several odd, non-plot influencing detours (how about a prologue and flashback involving a cannibalistic and murderous chimpanzee on the set of a popular children’s program?), but it’s a wonderful showcase for how the director effortlessly blends comedy and horror when you’re least expecting it. Does this leave a fair share of loose ends and ambiguities? It does, through the underlying moral compass of “Nope” and how success is literally built on the backs of others, helps fuel the fire of where the finale, which has plenty to say about the fragile state of the social ecosphere, eventually lands. 

Despite those shortcomings, “Nope” sustains its momentum and cements a lovingly molded and gorgeous homage to the modern sci-fi B-movies of yesteryear. Palmer and Kaluuya are dynamite playing two estranged siblings trying to make sense of their current situation. Working with the biggest budget of his career,($60 million compared to “Get Out” and “Us” at $4 and $20 million) Peele throws it all on the big screen, making a movie produced to scale with intrinsic designs, tense sequences and meticulous nuances specifically built towards the communal experience. A movie about taking back your claim and taming an inner beast while finding a shred of optimism amid this scary world. We already knew, miracles came in all shapes and sizes. We just had to know where to look. 

Grade: B+ 

NOPE is now playing in theaters. 


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