Now available to stream on Peacock – it’s also available to rent on digital platforms like Amazon Prime Video – nope notes that filmmaker Jordan Peele once again flirts with genre and racial dynamics. His crooked, odd-time signature of sci-fi UFO invasion movies mixes elements of western, thriller, horror, and comedy (comedy, of course; how can you read that title with a straight face?) while tackling a wide variety of subjects from animal husbandry to showbiz and grandiose musings about advancement and perception. Whether Peele’s set of ambitious ideas will all come together is not the question; it’s about if they all come together when you see the film for the first time.
nope: STREAM OR SKIP?
The essentials: Laughter in a can. Stupid dialogue. Disturbing Animal Sounds. We fade in the set of a sitcom from the 90s. A ’90s sitcom called Gordy’s home about a family and Gordy, their chimpanzee. A chimpanzee who has had enough and exerts his frightening chimpanzee strength. His mouth and fists are dripping with blood. A boy sits under a table, paralyzed with fear. We’ll come back to this scene later. But now we’re moving into darkness on a horse ranch in a dusty valley a jaunt and a half from Hollywood. A four-wheel motor revs up. The radio reports something about missing hikers. Sprinklers activate and wet the dirt in a cavernous barn. Pops (Keith David) is sitting on a horse named Ghost in an outdoor pen and his son OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) is standing next to him. Strange noises, clouds moving unnaturally, an eerie feeling – these are what you could call “phenomena”. Small objects rain heavily from the sky. Pops sags in the saddle. A nickel shot from the sky right through his eye, killing him. A nickel. Shot from the sky. Through his EYE. kill him.
Pops ran and now OJ Haywood runs Hollywood Horses. Her animals can be seen on television and in films. Saying OJ is a man of few words is like saying the universe is pretty big. He’s standing next to one of his horses on the set of what’s likely to be an abominable production, and a grotesque blonde woman – the star of the show, we assume – blanches when she learns his name is OJ. Our man mutters something to the crew before his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) finally shows up and rescues him. She babbles about how Haywood is the only black owned horse ranch in showbiz and that she and her brother are descendants of the black jockey who rode a horse in the very first movie. The horse in motion, and to consider that she is also an actress and performer. Then an unsuspecting production assistant doesn’t listen to OJ and scares the horse, and it almost kicks off some of their heads, and that’s it for this job.
Haywood is in trouble. OJ and Emerald pull up in front of a tourist trap in the desert, a faux western town with souvenir shops, saloon fronts and other tacky shit. It’s adjacent to their ranch. It says Jupiter’s claim. OJ sold horses to his owner, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), to make ends meet. Jupiter opens a door in his office and reveals all the artifacts from the Gordy’s home Tragedy. Jupiter was the boy. He says he usually charges people to watch this stuff. Strange how joking he is about it. After dark, the ranch is quiet and quiet. Too calm and quiet? Damn right. A horse gets out at night, a horse disappears, the power goes out. It happens more than once. OJ is an unflappably quiet guy. You don’t actually see him smile or hear him breathing heavily, even as his eyes lift up to the clouds and an almond shape moves through them with otherworldly speed and agility. He describes the scene to Emerald. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” She asks. He nods like OJ, with a barely perceptible twitch.
Which movies will it remind you of?: signSpielberg’s war of the Worlds and Close Encounters of the Third Kindextended-stretchy-tension where-is-that-walk Tarantino stuff like Django Unchained and The Hateful Eightand maybe a bit neo-western No country for old men or an old western like Once upon a time in the west.
Notable performance: It’s a toss between Palmer’s combustible mind and Kaluuya’s calm mind. She has fire and panache. With his big, tired eyes, he says more than whole screenplays. They are an inspired, dynamic couple.
Memorable dialogue: An unlikely Haywood ally, Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), talks and talks to OJ about all the UFO myths and conspiracies:
Angel: They’re just waiting for the perfect time to shove probes up our ass!
gender and skin: none.
Our opinion: Whatever’s happening up there in the sky, you really have to watch it. Refuse – eg “No” – and it won’t suck you into an Oz-like dust devil tornado and choke you and – I’ll stop here. But in the plot, OJ and Emerald are trying to film what’s happening so they can reach Oprah or whatever and earn a big scratch, saving the farm for OJ and giving Emerald fame. They recruit Angel, an electronics store clerk boy, to set up surveillance cameras, and eventually force Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), a mad cameraman who must be modeled after Werner Herzog’s gonzo persona, to help them capture “the impossible shot.”
So: movies movies movies. movies. nope is a film about films, but much more than that; It is also about the mechanics and philosophy of seeing. The camera sees and the eye sees, and whatever is in the sky it certainly looks like an eye too. If the camera sees it, then it exists. prove. The eye consumes – the “eye” of the thing and our eye. Kaluuya’s eyes pick up this tableau in the clouds, but his eyes fail too. Give us tons, scores, novels. Look the horse in the eye and you will startle it. Justus stages a show for a pathetic crowd of viewers who have eyes and won’t believe them.
We certainly see strange things in Peele’s film. But what do we feel? Discomfort, excitement, the excitement of teased and suspenseful extension of The Reveal. Is it worth? Not immediately. Peele packs nope with minor mysteries (an image of a shoe standing on end) within minor mysteries (the relevance of the Gordy’s home incident) within the great mystery (what the hell is that thing in heaven?). He punctuates the story with racial tension (the underappreciated contributions of black people to film history) and raunchy satirical comedy (showbiz cartoons, OJ’s amusing inability to get excited), the Peele signatures that define his work as a visual storyteller (which was rendered Go out and Us such an intoxicating cinema).
Even though nope impeccable in its visual conception, I refuse to judge its thematic coherence – Peele seems to brush aside all possible ideas, but the film is only hours old in my mind and it seeps on and lingers and freezes. I was shaken, chilled, provoked, occasionally torn, maybe underwhelmed once or twice, but always, always captivated. And attentive. Can’t forget observation. Few films inspire so many experiences.
Our appeal: Yes indeed. Stream it.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more about his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.