Movie Review: “Nope” – Behold, The Great American Show

by Nicole Veneto

Nope, Jordan Peele’s highly-anticipated third feature film is a breathtaking wonder about our relentless obsession with spectacle.

Nope Directed by Jordan Peele. Screening at Somerville Theatre, Kendall Square Cinema and movie theaters throughout New England.

Movie Review: "Nope" - Behold, The Great American Show Nope
OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya), Em Haywood (Keke Palmer) and Angel Torres (Brandon Peara) in Nope. Photo: Universal Pictures.

On a cold day in March, a month after Trump’s inauguration, I saw Salt at the Coolidge Corner Theater and it ended up being one of the most cathartic movie experiences of my life. In the final scene, Chris (Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya in his first nominated role) is trying to get away from the secluded mansion of his cheating white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), having taken him to meet her not-so-nice white family so his father could surgically transplant the brain of a blind old man into Chris’s body. As the two fight on the way, Chris wraps his hands around Rose’s neck but can’t bring himself to strangle her despite the smug, evil grin on her face. A police car pulls up on the road, its sirens flashing. Confident that her whiteness will protect her from her, Rose plays an innocent white woman and cries for the police to save her. Chris puts his hands up in the air with a look of utter exhaustion in his eyes. Everyone around me held their breath – we all know how this scenario plays out: Emmett Till, Central Park Five, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, etc, etc.

The car door opens. Sale Rod (Lil Rel Howery), Chris’s best friend who arrives in his TSA-issued emergency vehicle to rescue Chris just in time. The two leave together: “I told you to get out of that house, man!” – while Rose, like a run over deer, bleeds out in the street from a gunshot wound. As soon as the credits rolled, the entire audience erupted in applause, equal parts relieved at Chris’s survival and completely stunned by the movie itself. A certified horror classic from the start, Salt went on to make film history in a way no one anticipated, grossing over $255.4 million against a $4.5 million budget and earning comedian-turned-director Jordan Peele the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, as well as a Best Picture nomination for his feature debut. pele continued Salt with the doppelgänger terror of 2019 U.S, another politically scathing social thriller that lampoons American class stratification headlined by an impressive (but snubbed) dual performance from Lupita Nyong’o. Though critically and financially successful enough to solidify Peele as a new master of horror a’la Hitchcock, Carpenter and Craven, U.S did not generate the same universal acclaim as Salt. However, he proved that Peele was more than just a one-trick pony lucky enough to capture something truly spectacular on film.

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The history of cinema and moving images is also the history of the great American spectacle, of being able to see the extraordinary, the fantastic, the perverse and the deeply moving with our own eyes. Of course, our obsession with spectacle has as much to do with distracting us from cold, hard reality as it does with mass entertainment. Unfortunately, the cinematic spectacle is no longer what it used to be, at least not in the Kubrickian or classic Spielberg sense. Blockbusters currently owe a debt to nostalgia-filled IP franchises, funding from the Pentagon and/or the Department of Defenseand teams of overworked, underpaid VFX artists churning out overly artificial CG effects that make your eyes roll to the back of your skull. NopePeele’s long-awaited third feature film, , is a breathtaking wonder about our relentless obsession with spectacle. Very similar Salt, Nope It comes at a time when the big-screen spectacle pales in comparison to the real-life horrors that are piling up on our social media every day. Peele’s latest provides a revealing commentary on this imbalance: the film reflects how shows are made of things we can’t really control or understand: tragedies, traumas, wild animals and extraterrestrial forces alike.

Six months after the sudden death of patriarch Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David, The thing) from the shrapnel falling from the sky, his son Otis Jr. aka OJ (Kaluuya, Peele’s Scorsese DiNiro) has taken over the family business, Haywood Hollywood Horses, with his little sister Emerald (an infectiously charismatic Keke Palmer). . The Haywoods claim to be descendants of the uncredited Black Horseman who appears in Eadweard Muybrdige’s 1878 chronophotograph series. The moving horse:: “From the moment images could move, we had skin in the game!” However, pedigree hardly matters: in an industry increasingly reliant on CG, live animals aren’t used much anymore. To keep the business afloat, OJ sells horses at the Jupiter’s Claim Fairgrounds, owned by former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yuen, To pain), whose claim to fame as a cheesy child actor includes surviving an attack by a vicious chimpanzee on the set of the doomed ’90s sitcom. Gordon’s house. (I’ll refrain from saying anything more about this thematically crucial subplot, but Jupe’s flashback to the incident might be the scariest thing Peele has put on screen yet. Actually, broke a nail gripping the armrests so tightly.)

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Haunted by the unexplained circumstances of Otis Sr.’s death, the Haywood brothers begin to notice strange occurrences at their Agua Dulce ranch: random power outages, down security cameras, fluctuating power, and horses wandering off or disappearing without a trace. When OJ spots a large disc-shaped hovercraft kidnapping one of the horses, Em suggests they take advantage of the “bad miracle” coming to the ranch for fame and fortune. They’re out to get “the money shot” (or “Oprah’s shot,” as Em calls it), clear and undeniable proof of alien activity the likes of which has never been seen before. Since the UFO disrupts electrical currents, the two set up battery-powered surveillance cameras around the property with the help of paranormally minded technician Ángel Torres (the OA‘s Brandon Perea), who is the first to notice the most unsettling signal of all: a single stationary cloud that has remained in exactly the same place for the past six months. But the Haywoods aren’t the only ones trying to dispute the sinister spectacle. It turns out that Jupe has been using the horses OJ sold him as bait for a new live show, the fallout of which attracts the attention of famed cinematographer Antlers Holst (the raspy-voiced Michael Wincott in a performance reminiscent of Robert Shaw in jaws) to the Haywood Ranch to capture his evil miracle on film.

The same as Salt Y U.S, NopePeele’s brilliance lies in Peele’s talent for reconstituted familiar horror tropes and genre trappings into a larger meta-critique of the black experience throughout American history. Here, Peele explores the exploitative relationship between black people and the American big show: how white society has turned consumable entertainment into black pain, black bodiesY black stories while actively preventing blacks from having an authorial voice over the narratives of which they are subjects. According to this mission, Nope sees Peele working flat out as a writer and director to bring his ambitious creative vision to life. Peele’s trademark blend of wit, humor, and slick social commentary is perfectly served by its two leads: Palmer’s explosive personality fills every inch of the screen, and Kaluuya’s ability to communicate OJ’s thoughts and feelings with just a glance. Silent is nothing less than master class.

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Shot on 65mm IMAX film by the great Hoyte van Hoytema (let the right one in, Their, Dunkirk), Nope it’s a visual marvel on a par with Spielberg’s best work, harking back to the glory days of blockbuster movie-making with its huge sets and thrilling camera work. The advantages of green screen backgrounds and post-production visual effects are ruled out. Peele references many other movies in his movies, directly and indirectly, but he’s not just a referential director. His creative vision doesn’t consist of watered-down genre pastiche, pop-culture Easter eggs, or studio-mandated sequel setups (I’m looking at you Joe and Anthony Russo). The film contains reverential tributes to jaws, First Encounters of the Third Kindwesterns by Clint Eastwood and John Ford, Akiraand even Neon Genesis Evangelion. You can easily trace Peele’s inspirations back to his sources, but Nope is a fiendishly ingenious beast of creation by this artist.

It’s tempting to call Jordan Peele the new Hitchcock or Spielberg, but to do so would undermine what makes him so distinctive in today’s landscape. Nope makes Peele three for three as a horror director: he’s on a critically and commercially successful hot streak. Given how oversaturated our cinema is with sequels, reboots, multiverses, and remakes, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Nope it exists as Peele conceived it.

But what do you call a bad miracle? “Is there a word for that?” OJ asks as Em after telling him about her first encounter with the UFO.

In fact, there is – a show.

nicole veneto graduated from Brandeis University with a master’s degree in Women’s Studies, Gender and Sexuality, concentrating in feminist media studies. Her writing has appeared in MAI Feminism and Visual Culture, Film Affairs Magazineand Boston University hoochie reader. She is the co-host of the new podcast Marvelous! Or the death of cinema. You can follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter @kuntsuragi as well as on substack.