Nope Review

Siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) inherit a Californian horse ranch from their industry-legend father. One day, they glimpse a mysterious object lingering in the sky above their abode. Attempting to capture the mystery on film, the two make horrific discoveries about the phenomenon’s true nature.

by Kambole Campbell |
Updated on
Release Date:

22 Jul 2022

Original Title:


It’s often said that showbiz can eat you alive. Jordan Peele’s third film runs with that metaphor further than anyone might have expected. For his latest sci-fi horror, Peele characterises the film industry as a ruthless beast, and wonders about who gets led into its jaws, and for whose benefit. In Nope, the audience itself becomes a vast monster, demanding to be entertained by personal and historical trauma, commodified for their viewing pleasure. The film makes visceral horror of the nightmare of being consumed by something unfathomably larger than you — whether that’s by a national audience or a flying Lovecraftian terror. But it’s also a celebration of film crew — those in the less glamorous roles fundamental to creating cinematic spectacle. Peele is no stranger to turning American pathologies into demonic monsters: Get Out found uncanny frights in white liberal racism via Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and The Stepford Wives; while Us reimagined C.H.U.D. as a reflection on class warfare and displacement.

Nope looks at the multiple meanings of “spectacle”. It unpacks cinema’s romanticisation of the American frontier, itself a site of historical trauma. The dominance of white producers, feeding their movie and television machine with the misery of minorities, is played just as terrifyingly as the later, more uncanny horrors; with this, Peele turns whiteness into another monster. But he isn’t too preoccupied with what Nope signifies. It’s satisfyingly resistant to the temptation of recent horror movies that overexplain their meaning, limiting themselves to a single interpretation.

Peele is masterful at manipulating and restricting perspective, delighting in leaving just enough out of view to allow the imagination to worsen the horror.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer show delightful chemistry as OJ and Emerald ‘Em’ Haywood, children of a renowned Hollywood horse trainer, apparently descendants of the jockey in the 1878 photography series The Horse In Motion (a key milestone in motion-picture history). Between clashes of Palmer’s manic energy and Kaluuya’s cool stoicism, their close encounter with the unknown becomes an obsession and a potential solution for their inner turmoil, maybe even a route to fame. Another dynasty marred by tragedy is included: Steven Yeun plays former child star ‘Jupe’ Park, attempting to leave behind a tabloid incident by taking refuge in a nostalgic, whitewashed, Gold Rush-styled theme park. Also fascinating is genre cinema legend Michael Wincott, playing a Quint-from-Jaws-type as a hermit cinematographer, ominously growling a rendition of the 1958 novelty alien song ‘The Purple People Eater’, among other poetic and vaguely creepy turns of phrase.

While there’s commonality with Jaws in its quest to capture something monstrous on film (the sky taking the place of the sea), Nope doesn’t limit itself to straightforward pastiche, embracing its influences but looking to make something new of them. With impressive precision Peele remixes a broad range of influences, including the incomprehensible terror of Lovecraft, more niche genre fare like Ron Underwood’s Tremors, classic Hollywood, and even beyond, such as a direct reference to Akira, through thrilling replication of the famous bike-slide shot (perhaps his tribute to a cancelled remake he was once linked to).

Peele’s regular composer Michael Abels fashions a score that cuts between the plucky tension of past work and something more grandiose, recalling the motifs of classical Westerns. Visually, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema opens up the frame through IMAX photography, and even with that newfound height, Peele is masterful at manipulating and restricting perspective, delighting in leaving just enough out of view to allow the imagination to worsen the horror. One such moment, featuring Steven Yeun, is among the most exciting set-pieces of the year, an astonishing moment of pure, visceral sci-fi terror. Despite some often claustrophobic horror, van Hoytema and Peele even make bright, wide-open spaces feel threatening as characters struggle to catch a glimpse of the terror from above.

Through all of this, Nope sees Peele distinguish between the making of entertainment for an audience — a ravenous, uncaring beast, bloodying its teeth with the spectacle of other people’s lives — and the act of filmmaking for yourself, capturing something impossible on camera, making a dream real. In the exploration of these ideas, the mythmaking of the Haywood ranch dovetails with Peele tearing away classic cinematic imagery from white-supremacist, manifest-destiny roots. The director repurposes it as a spectacle of the more triumphant kind, framing Kaluuya as a cowboy in a bright-orange The Scorpion King crew hoodie. In defining such liberation he wrangles film and television production history as the Haywoods do horses, pulling in all of his favourite cinema and lovingly demolishing and rebuilding it. Nope is as much a celebration of what’s great about film as it is a parody of its monstrous tendencies.

An ambitious, provocative swing, Nope feels like that increasingly rare beast: an original blockbuster. Unspooling a horrific parody of Hollywood’s hubris, it’s a crowd-pleaser that wonders about the cost of pleasing a crowd.
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