When Jordan Peele burst onto the horror scene in 2017 with the smash hit Get Out, he immediately established himself as one of the premiere directors in the genre. His follow-up effort Us was naturally one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2019, and while it wasn’t quite as well-received as his debut, it proved that his quick success was definitely not a fluke. Jordan Peele is the real deal, so just about the entire horror community has been anxiously awaiting his third feature, Nope. I’m happy to say that it does not disappoint.
Written, directed, and produced by Peele, Nope stars Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, and Brandon Perea. It’s about a brother-sister horse training duo named OJ and Emerald who realize that their property is a UFO hotspot, and from there…well, to be honest, the less you know about the plot, the better. There’s a reason why the marketing kept the story mostly under wraps, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the experience for you.
Not surprisingly, Nope is a bit of a slow burn. It takes about 40 minutes for the horror to really kick in, and for most of that time, the film focuses almost exclusively on the two main characters. Sure, there are a few other people who pop in and out of the story from time to time, but on the whole, the first act belongs to OJ and Emerald, so they have to do all the heavy lifting in this part of the story.
Thankfully, they’re 100% up to the task. Characters are arguably Jordan Peele’s greatest strength, and these two are just as good as we would expect. They’re played excellently by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, and they have an amazing, almost comedy duo-like chemistry together. Kaluuya is like the “straight man,” and Palmer is like the “funny man,” but with a twist. While Nope has its fair share of jokes and lighthearted moments, this is by no means a comedy. If you imagine a classic comedy comedy duo archetype transposed into a more dramatic key, that’s basically what these two characters are. And it’s awesome.
Whether they’re together or apart, they’re always an absolute pleasure to watch, so I couldn’t help but enjoy myself every time they were on screen. Because of that, I came to genuinely care about them and their story very quickly, and as the film progressed into the second and third acts, my positive feelings towards them fed directly into the alien horror.
See, once the scares kick into gear, they hit pretty hard, but I wouldn’t exactly say I was scared myself. Rather, I was scared for OJ and Emerald, and that made some of the horror scenes genuinely terrifying. Now, this part of the film is where Nope begins to reveal its secrets, so I’m going to have to be really vague from this point on. I’ll try to get my points across clearly, but I’m sure they’re inevitably going to be a bit opaque until you actually see the film.
The alien threat in this story is quite different from what we normally get in these kinds of movies, and I very much appreciated that. It’s a unique idea with excellent execution, so if you’re a fan of otherworldly monsters, I think you’re really going to like what Peele came up with here.
On top of that, the mystery of what exactly is going on is super intriguing. The film sets up a puzzling scenario and then slowly pulls back the curtain at just the right pace, so I was not only invested in the main characters but also super invested in the story itself. Then, when the movie finally puts all its cards on the table, the answers are pretty satisfying. Granted, I think some of the things it does with those answers are a bit disappointing (and I’ll get to those issues in a bit), but I had no problems with the nature of this alien threat.
Last but not least, as with any Jordan Peele film, we have to talk a bit about the message of Nope. After just two movies, Peele has already established himself as a filmmaker with something to say, and this movie is no exception. It deals with our society’s obsession with grim spectacle and achieving fame, and it does so in a really clever way. It’s clear enough that I got the point, but it’s also layered and subtle enough that I feel like I still need to think about it a bit more to understand all the metaphors Peele is using here.
All that being said, Nope is far from a perfect movie. In fact, while I really liked it, I don’t think I would quite say that I loved it, and there are three main reasons why. For starters, as much as I enjoyed OJ and Emerald and their story, I thought the direction Peele chose to go in for the third act wasn’t quite as interesting as it could’ve been. While I get what he was going for thematically, I think he made a storytelling mistake that hurt the film on a narrative level.
Secondly, as cool as the alien threat was, there was one thing about it that felt a bit contrived, and it took me out of the movie just a tiny bit. Again, this element fits with the theme Jordan Peele was going for, so I get why he included it, but it didn’t quite work for me on the literal story level.
Thirdly, as much as I appreciated the message, it did feel like a bit of a letdown. Get Out and Us tackle big, heady themes like subtle racism and the ways we can oppress the needy even without knowing it, so I was expecting something equally deep here. Instead, what we got feels like comparatively low-hanging fruit, so as important as this movie’s message is, it’s not quite on the level of his previous two films.
But at the end of the day, those complaints are far outweighed by everything Nope gets right, so I’m happy to say that I highly recommend this movie. It has excellent main characters (as well as really good supporting ones!), a really cool alien threat, a super intriguing mystery, and an important message, so if you’re looking for some good new horror to watch, you should definitely check this one out.
Nope is playing in theaters right now.