Strange as it may seem, the most reliable places of understanding and safety, so to speak, that a viewer can cling to in Jordan Peele Nope are the horses. Yes, of all places, the hoofed colts and dialogueless mares give you the most direct readings of every alarming moment and situation in this film. Now, what that says comparatively about humans, predicaments, and otherworldly elements working alongside them is an entirely different thing.
With the risk of going off on a tangent to have this movie review, right off the bat, it looks like she’s channeling 1998Robert Redford or be published by horse and dog magazine, much to the joke Notting Hill fans out there, please know that this appreciation and observation has its proven validity, even when applied to a twisted sci-fi thriller. Horses are among the most intuitive animals in the world when it comes to sensory processing and sensory awareness. They unquestionably rely on their instincts at the physical, mental and emotional levels to assess life and death situations.
To put it more casually and in a movie-appropriate way, horses say “no” with fight-or-flight responses faster than and way ahead of us humans. When Nope pushes your buttons and raises your pulse, follow what the horses are doing and you’ll be fine. Alas, we know humans behave differently, just like Jordan Peele. He knows that human curiosity, perceived dominance and other courage-distorting temptations cause people to test their survivability beyond their instinctual triggers to their own exit point or fatal failure. .
Working damn hard to refute the old hollywood adage of “never working with children or animals,” Jordan Peele lets these horses be the first and mightiest of many vessels subjected to the survival wringer of Nope. With an ancestral tribute to the black jockey of “Animal Locomotion” by Eadweard Muybridge first film experiences of the 1880s, the brother-sister team of OJ Haywood (Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (recent Alice star Keke Palmer) work as show business animal trainers specializing in horses. He’s the introverted farmhand and she’s the talkative, unfiltered face of the operation bequeathed to them by their late father Otis Sr. (the golden-throated Keith David).
Haywood’s Hollywood Horses home base is outside of Aqua Dulce in southern California. The ranch’s closest neighbor is the western-themed amusement park “Jupiter’s Claim” run by child-adult actor Ricky Park (minari Oscar nominee Steven Yeun) and his wife. His dubious glory is as the survivor of a horrific on-set incident where a trained sitcom chimp turned against his cast and handlers. He pretends to have lucrative happiness and closure, but the trauma never went away.
Speaking of tragedy, six months before the present time of Nope, Otis Sr. was killed atop his mount by deadly debris inexplicably falling from the sky. Nothing about Aqua Dulce has been the same since, like OJ and his horses, and soon Emerald and their techy new friend Angel (the OAby Brandon Perea), begin to witness and encounter unexplained sounds and flying phenomena emanating from a cloud on the horizon that never seems to move with the rest of the time. The prevailing hypothesis is, of course, that of extraterrestrials. Cue it dramatic chipmunk!
This sci-fi infusion cements a menacing and interesting premise for Jordan Peele. The first two thirds of Nope sinks deeper and deeper into it to evoke at every moment both comedy and horror, two specialties of get out and We Oscar winner. Hilariously according to Angel, there are only three reasons aliens would come to Earth: 1) To seek peace, 2) It’s our future selves going back in time to prevent destruction, and 3) Variety. killer of the world. It’s a list of sounds, and those possibilities stimulate characters who quiver with fear and are drawn to danger.
This escalation of frazzle and nerves also characterizes the title of the image. What word ! Go ahead and count how many times “no” is dropped when something wild happens or when one peer asks another if they’re okay. We, the audience, borrow this word ourselves to select the points we would pack and run for the hills of Aqua Dulce. At the same time, viewers can extrapolate how many horrific events could have been stopped or prevented by the utterance and subsequent follow-up action triggered by that quick word of denial and exit.
Whenever whatever is in this cloud approaches, the electrical power drops, creating silence and darkness. Using crack sound design work that explodes in IMAX format, these mood-changing moments amplify the strident symphony of terrifying noises that herald the presence of the unseen force of nature from above. True to Jordan Peele’s talent for suspense, Nope has many thrilling sequences lit at times to shock us and wrapped up at others to shake our cages. The artistic drivers of this anxious mood are cinematographer Hoyte Van Hotema (Principle, Interstellar) and Peele’s trusty regular songwriter Michael Abels, both of whom do outstanding work.
This fierce act of endurance became Peele’s personalized playground for three feature films after he made the leap from comedy television. In his niche landscape, Peele is also one of the most exotic cinematic horticulturists, so to speak, we’ve ever seen. Few storytellers plant suggestive seeds of message and symbolism as solid or as deep as he does in his films. The challenges of his films, in this respect, have been the attention paid to which seeds and the possible consequences of their results.
Let’s start with the attention factor. This half of the difficulty rears an ugly head in Nope, and one that scratches way more often than it should. Of an intimidating opening bible verse whipping up the dirt and wickedness of man to the important chapter cards given to the names of OJ’s horses, there are hints and clues to be had everywhere in this movie. Certainly, it’s credit to the details of Peele’s script and the application of those elements through Ruth De Jong’s production design (Manchester by the sea), props by veteran television master Michael Glynn and stunning visual effects by Guillaume Rocheron (Ad Astra). Even a single blood-splattered child’s shoe that can inexplicably stand on its toecap causes a head-tilting glare that gets the juices flowing.
However, Peele stacks the storyline fertilizer for some seeds while leaving others barren with the California desert. By avoiding spoilers, characters or trivia in Nope since the most dedicated care ends up being irrelevant, calling into question the overall effort. Look no further than the rich character history given to Steven Yeun’s side show Ricky Park versus the lack of growth or change given to the main characters of Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer who dominate screen time. . No offense to the Judas and the Black Messiah Oscar winner or former Akeelah and the bee escape, but maybe that should have been Yeun’s movie.
That said, the overall goal should be compelling at the end of the whole mystery. With all that’s wrapped in Nope, the big sum is little more than a group of citizens trying to get a single shred of video or photographic evidence of extraterrestrial existence for a cashed-in tabloid. This kind of chosen outcome seems too light when it comes to all the hunch it took to get there.
From there, the entire Nope adds to a sometimes wobbly balance of consistent and inconsequential results due to these suspect, selective and disproportionate points of focus. Peele was rightly shy and wise to disperse so much false guidance and symbolism overload. Investing an audience in crafting their own discovery is a welcome exercise if the outcome can justify the trip. In an often exquisite and stylized way, down to images of jerky tube men, Nope follows the line of entertaining viewers in the dark without making them feel too stupid.