In his third feature film, writer/director Jordan Peele blends his trademark style of horror with the scope of a sci-fi spectacle. Nope follows two siblings who make a chilling discovery that threatens their California horse ranch. The less you know the better – so that’s all you get.
When it comes to horror, Jordan Peele does suspense better than most. The first half of this film is very much rooted in the horror genre, harbouring a very chilling and suspense-laden atmosphere. There’s a lingering tension and sense of uncertainty across the entire opening half, effectively locking you in to the action and keeping you deeply engaged in the mystery of what’s going on. It may not be quite as terrifying as his previous two films, but there’s a handful of key scenes in the early moments that are damn frightening and set a spine-chilling tone.
As much as the straight-horror approach kept me locked in, I found the pivot to a more sci-fi heavy tone in the latter half of the film quite exciting. For some, the change to a tone that resembles a sci-fi blockbuster more than a horror film could be jarring, or maybe even disappointing, but I love the gradual switch. It shows a bit more of Jordan Peele’s breadth as a filmmaker – to be able to craft a film that covers two genres and transitions between them seamlessly. The first half is certainly beautiful, but the latter especially makes for some breathtaking visuals that take the scope of the film to the next level – indicative of the talents of cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema. It’s refreshing to see a DoP with credits such as Tenet (2020), Interstellar (2014) lend his expertise to a more subdued horror film. This quality is also further enhanced by the use of IMAX cameras, which allows the capturing of certain sequences on a scale you’d otherwise not be able to.
On top of the brilliant use of horror, Peele manages to find the perfect moments to weave in some light comedic beats, accompanied by stellar delivery from both Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. The two of them lead the film with an iron fist as OJ Haywood and Emerald Haywood, respectively. There’s no questioning Kaluuya’s ability as an actor – he’s plays a compelling lead who is easy to connect with, and handles every horror, action and comedic moment with ease. However, as good as Kaluuya is, it’s Keke Palmer who steals the show for me. Her energy and charisma elevates every single scene to the next level. She basically plays the polar-opposite to Kaluuya’s character, allowing them to have some great back and forth moments where you see their personalities collide. She’s completely locked in to the role and by far the most entertaining performer in here. I also want to give props to Steven Yeun, who is perfectly quirky and adds to the more mysterious elements of the film.
Speaking on the narrative, it’s no surprise Jordan Peele weaves in a bunch of social commentary – it’s a staple of both of his prior films. Some themes and instances of social commentary are quite vague, while others are pretty straightforward, but the best thing about the film is that you don’t need to pick out any of that to enjoy it. If you want to delve deeper into the meaning behind the film, you can, but if you just want to enjoy an engaging piece of horror sci-fi, you can do that without losing anything. It’s a fantastic execution – satisfying both parties of people without compromising on either. The story itself is brilliant – subverting expectations around every corner to deliver a final product that may be somewhat familiar on surface level, but is quite unique in the end.
In the end, Nope cements Jordan Peele as a quality storyteller within the horror genre, and shows off his ability to drift effortlessly into other genres. Sticking very much in line with the general tone of his previous two films, it’s safe to say that if you enjoyed both Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), you’ll respond well to this. With a well-executed marriage of thrilling horror and awesome sci-fi content, there’s plenty of surprises in store for anyone deciding to check this out. Prepare to be on the edge of your seat in suspense and marvel at great performances from both Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer.