Director and writer Jordan Peele returns with yet another horror movie—this time in the sci-fi horror subgenre. With his focus on the menacing extraterresterial, Peele conveys the terror and allure of looking at danger right in the eye.
Diverting a little more from the likes of his previous works, Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), Peele came up with a new way of challenging the audiences’ views by exploring the pursuit of showcasing and chasing a spectacle. We’ve all heard of the phrase, “.. like a car crash that you can’t look away from,” and the film embodies that.
Hollywood ranch owner Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) trains horses for film production. After suffering from an odd accident, son Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr and daughter Emerald decided to continue their father’s legacy. Starring Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, their characters provide a contrasting purview of how they see their father’s business. While the introverted OJ prefers to limit his role to being a wrangler surrounded by the horses, Em desires to expand the business and attain more fortune. With Peele honing in on cinematics, he displays photos of Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion in the beginning while the Haywoods claim he’s their ancestor. OJ and Em eventually find themselves in a dilemma when something ominous springs up in the skies—is it a blessing in disguise, or a mere curse?
A visually super stunning film, especially due to the use of IMAX 65mm cameras, it locks the audience in and magnifies the oddities we look for. Peele successfully utilizes single shots to frame the notion of the spectacle and highlight how suffocating it can be, even in broad daylight. The pace is deliberately slow, sometimes overbearingly so. I personally love the fact that each act starts by focusing on the surrounding of specific animals in the entertainment industry, underscoring the exploitation aspect as part of being a spectactle. Shown in a flashback for example, a chimp actor called Gordy goes on a rampage on set of a sitcom. This event doesn’t just foreshadow the perils of what’s to come, it also accentuates the building rage one might unleash any moment when exploited.
The obsession with documenting, whether for one’s own validation or others’ is also a recurring theme. Renowned cinematographer Antlers Holst attempts to capture the impeccable and almost impossible shot of the entity in the sky. However, this comes at a steep price. Humans often possess a sense of morbid curiosity and are drawn to dangerous spectacles, even if they are aware of the possible consequences. His character further highlights humans’ desire to fulfill their ambitions and to what extent they would go, even if the attempt might be futile.
The scenes are edited in such a way that draw parallels from the past and the present while the narrative aptly shows just enough exposition. The soundtrack further amplifies the motif of the spectacle, creating a distorted cacophony whenever the entity in the sky appoaches. And of course, the cast did a great job in conveying fear, anger, confusion and comic relief during certain times. Even though the entity is initially presented in such a way where it’s this distant, unsure yet menacing monster, at the end of the day, it’s just another being with its own weaknesses and strengths. One reservation I have is that the design of the entity could have matched the register of the film, it is a little underwhelming if you take into account the overall cinematography.
Nope is a wonderful addition to Peele’s filmography and sci-fi horror as a whole, contrasting many other traditional horror films that emphasize fear in only darkness. The slow-paced nature and the covertness of the entity might not be what the audience expect, but the film has a way of luring one in to fixate on the spectactle as the characters do.