Metro Weekly

‘Nope’ Review: Just Say Yes

Jordan Peele maintains his track record as a master of suspense with the eerie to the extreme 'Nope.'

Nope: Keke Palmer
Keke Palmer in Nope – Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Some very strange phenomena arise around the quiet, family-run Haywood horse ranch in Nope (★★★★☆), the latest genre-bending feature from Oscar-winning Get Out and Us auteur Jordan Peele.

First, a sudden, lethal downpour rains down on the farm from a peculiar cloud lingering directly above. Voices, screaming in agony, fill the air over the small town of Agua Dulce, California. From there, the film methodically, tantalizingly teases out details of an unexplained presence intent on claiming this remote territory as its own.

The movie opens with a tease, in fact, a harrowing flashback to another sudden, lethal outburst, this time on the set of a ’90s sitcom called Gordy’s Home. We hear, but can see only brief glimpses of the grisly scene as the titular star of the show, a chimpanzee playing “Gordy,” goes on a vicious, bloody rampage that leaves no one standing in that TV studio.

The actual violence doesn’t appear onscreen, just the withering sight of the blood-soaked ape pausing to catch its breath, before pouncing again on a struggling victim that he continues to pound relentlessly. Not only is the visual restraint effective, but the mere sound of flesh and bone being pummeled and torn apart evokes more terror in the imagination than any single onscreen image might accomplish.

Throughout, the film relies on excellent sound design, as much as any visual spectacle, to illustrate the bizarre occurrences at the Haywood ranch. Still, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (DunkirkInterstellar), shooting in IMAX, captures some absolutely arresting tableaux, like one indelible image of blood and carnage raining down on the farmhouse.

Usually, however, it’s the thought of objects and actions unseen that carries the most weight here. Peele is masterful at wielding the power of suggestion, and the art of misdirection, to fuel fear and anticipation. Though, ultimately, anticipation of the mysterious thing hovering over Nope turns out to be more frightening than the thing itself.

But the movie has a field day toying with our anticipation, drawing its characters and the audience into the deepening mystery, weaving disparate genre threads together to depict an epic struggle between the Haywoods and their hostile visitor.

Get Out leading man Daniel Kaluuya, as horse trainer OJ Haywood, who runs Haywood Hollywood Horses with his taciturn dad Otis (Keith David), supplies the steady, determined aura of a decent, hard-working man looking out for his family and their historic horse wrangling business.

Nope: Daniel Kaluuya
Daniel Kaluuya in Nope – Courtesy Universal Pictures

Yang to his yin, Keke Palmer plays OJ’s far less responsible little sis, Emerald, the fast-talking, hustling Haywood whose over-the-top reactions to the bizarre goings-on at the ranch are played for solid comedy. The larger personality of the two siblings — and, incidentally, queer — Emerald dominates their interactions the way that Palmer often dominates the screen, through sheer charm and chutzpah.

She’s well-matched in the charm department by Brandon Perea (The OA) in a star-making turn as Angel, a talky tech specialist from the local electronics store where OJ and Emerald buy surveillance equipment to capture visual evidence of the unexplainable.

Capturing the perfect shot on camera becomes a running theme in the movie, which also depicts OJ and Emerald working on the set of a commercial, as well as the aftermath of the terrifying massacre on the set of Gordy’s Home.

In the film’s most intriguing performance, Steven Yeun portrays Ricky “Jupe” Park, a former child actor who survived the Gordy’s Home rampage, and now runs a Wild West theme park in Agua Dulce where danger also lurks. Ricky knows better than anyone how shockingly quickly a pleasant afternoon of fun and make-believe can turn into a ghastly spectacle.

So does Peele. Nope actually references a biblical verse heralding what OJ calls a “bad miracle”: I will cast abominable filth upon you/Make you vile/And make you a spectacle.

Based on the film’s frequent nods to filmmaking, Peele seems keenly aware of audience expectations. So the verse suffices as a horror maker’s mission statement, if not an explanation for the relatively straightforward plot, which seems designed to arouse fear and existential curiosity in equal measure.

Nope is Rated R and is playing in theaters nationwide, including Landmark Theatres. Visit www.landmarktheatres.com.

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