Whole lotta style, little less substance: A review of ‘Nope’

Published August 17, 2022, 7:09 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

A scene from ‘Nope’

Ever since his directing debut, Get Out, elicited rave reviews from both critics and moviegoers, Jordan Peele has been on an extended roll. His second film, Us, enjoyed enough fanfare, and he was praised for teasing out impressive acting within the horror genre, a genre that isn’t always noted for its depth full performances. So with this third full feature film, the question would be whether Peele could extend his winning streak as both director and writer.

With Nope, Jordan Peele again writes and directs; but thematically, this one is quite different. At its core, it’s about how people react in the face of mystery, danger, and the unknown – and this applies whether it’s a UFO and strange being, or even a rampaging chimpanzee. In this regard, the film is a close relative of such Steven Spielberg films as Close Encounters of a Third Kind, and Jaws.

Keke Palmer is Emerald, this sister of OJ, played by Daniel Kaluuya. They’re the children of a pioneer cowboy/wrangler/ horse trainer, who was the first African-American to carve a name in this field, and parlayed his gift to enter the world of early filmmaking and Hollywood. As with his other films, this element of Black identity is quickly established; but unlike his first two films, this notion of blacks living in a white world, isn’t really explored after it’s established.

Steven Yeun is a child star turned hokey ringmaster in a lowbrow cowboy amusement park. Brandon Perea plays Angel, a surveillance salesman, and if there’s someone who could be called the scene stealer in this film, and makes a strong impression, it’s Brandon. The other major character is Michael Wincott, playing Antlers, a grizzled cinematographer. At one point in the film, Antlers becomes something of an Ahab, with the extra-terrestrial, his Moby Dick.

There is impressive acting all around, and I’d single out Keke Palmer as the one critics will rave about and tout as blessed with an Oscar-worthy Supporting Actress performance – but it is early days, and let’s see if she can sustain the buzz all the way to the end of the year.

While most of the action happens on a California horse farm, the horror-comedy does excel in offering a glimpse of us against the unknown. It can delight, it can surprise, but to be brutally frank, it also frustrates in a big way. It is about going to battle against the unknown, an enemy the protagonists know practically nothing about – but it is also a film that ends up leading us into empty alleys, a film that teases then makes the teasing an end up to itself, and a film that leaves more questions than there are answers for.

The film ultimately challenges the audience to make sense of all that is thrown our way. And while there’s a lot of spectacles and visual derring-do, I’ll admit that the narrative could have thrown more punches or offered a stronger resolution. There’s a lot of style in this film, and it keeps us riveted to the screen, curious as to what will happen next; but I do wonder if upon reaching the end, some will wonder whether it was really worth the ‘journey’.