Nope movie review: Director Jordan Peele is at the height of his powers, while Daniel Kaluuya is magnetic

·3-min read
Nope movie review: Director Jordan Peele is at the height of his powers, while Daniel Kaluuya is magnetic

It has been three years since Jordan Peele broke our minds with Us and five years since he altered the horror landscape with Get Out. He’s a busy man - a prolific producer and a popular choice for voice work on high-profile cartoons - but as a director he’s opted to go slow. The fine art of building suspense is something this 43 year old has nailed.

Peele’s latest film is the most original event movie of the year, if not the decade. A playful riff on our obsession with UFOs, Nope blurs sci-fi, horror and cowboy movie tropes, while finding time to explore racism, climate change, advertising and Nineties sitcoms. If the film came with a reading list, it would include Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust and Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

In Nope, Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play brother and sister OJ and Emerald Haywood, whose dad, a proud and savvy ranch owner based in California, has just died.

Both siblings love horses, otherwise they’re chalk and cheese. Introvert OJ seems stupified by the stupidity of existence. Extrovert Emerald is libidinous and flaky. Will they be able to put aside their differences when they realise their dad’s farm, along with a neighbouring theme park run by former TV star Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun), is under threat? And can they not only defeat their extra-terrestrial foe, but capture it on film?

Kaluuya (left), Keke Palmer (centre) and Brandon Perea in Nope (© Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
Kaluuya (left), Keke Palmer (centre) and Brandon Perea in Nope (© Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Kaluuya, as ever, is magnetic, though OJ doesn’t make us laugh as much as Chris, the role he played in Get Out. He doesn’t exactly make us cry, but by the second half of Nope we feel like we would follow the character to the ends of the earth. The same goes for Palmer’s Em.

The way cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema lights the terrain is awesome (Nope is a movie about getting the perfect shot, and it is full of perfect shots). And when the camera pelts after horses and motorbikes, my heart did somersaults. Peele wants to engage the viewer’s brain, and delivers a rollercoaster experience just for good measure.

Though CGI is used (and some of the effects rival anything in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune), the most memorable images are ingenious and old-school. A bright-eyed, homicidal chimp; a mangled face, barely hidden by a veil. This is the weird sh*t likely to invade your dreams.

Nope was made for $68m and maybe that relatively low budget explains why the whole thing feels so fancy-free. Peele’s vision comes cheap(ish), so he’s allowed to do what he wants.

An artist at the height of his powers, Peele proves it’s possible to rage against the machine and come out on top (OJ wears a Rage Against the Machine T-shirt; nice touch). Is the film going to make a billion dollars? Nope. Is it a must-see? Yep.

131mins, cert 15

In cinemas from August 12

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