Nope (2022) **** – Seen at the Cinema

So I’m going to start with a SPOILER ALERT. To give you a moment to digest that, I’m going to explain that if I included half points in my ratings system, this would be a three-and-a-half rather than a four. But it’s certainly better than a three, so it automatically becomes a four. Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s take the plunge.

After a pretty good build-up, invoking elements of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Alien (1979) and, yes, Predator (1987), the mysterious spaceship goes from being a cloud that doesn’t move for six months to a flying saucer (yawn!) to a giant stetson with a hole in the middle to the kind of piratical sail that might have been shredded in a storm. And for an alien that’s flown a gazillion miles to get to this spot of wilderness, it’s pretty dumb, falling for the old trick of swallowing a balloon. Yep, didn’t make much sense to me neither.

But that’s most of the downside because it’s anchored by an absolutely outstanding performance from Daniel Kaluuya who is not far off being this generation’s Tom Hanks.

And there’s a lot of pretty neat stuff, a couple of sizzlers of a red herring, some clever moves at the end by our beleaguered team as they turn from hunted to hunters. And there a host of stunning images, blood drenching a house, a pig on a roof, the deflation of inflatable stick figures, a guy wrapping himself in barbed wire, a boy trapped under a table by a chimp terrorizing a television studio, a shoe that stands up on its end, a horse statue rammed through a windscreen, a bug on a camera that might just be the alien and innovative sound effects.

O.J. Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) runs a ranch specializing in supplying horses for the movies. But it’s on its last legs after the mysterious death of his father (Keith David). He’s not helped by his sister Emerald  (Keke Palmer), as wacky as he is sombre. Amateur Ufologist Angel (Brandon Perea) invites himself to the party while sometime cinematic genius Antlers (Michael Wincott) is a late recruit, but in the end a bit too close to the nutters atop skyscrapers in Independence Day (1996) desperate to welcome aliens.

It does veer too often from sci-fi to horror but instead of Spielbergian awe the characters, while intrigued by the prospect of aliens, are just as likely to be shit scared, too worried about consequence to actually come clean about what they may have witnessed. Emerald and Angel are the enthusiasts, OJ the naysayer. Turns out the sassy Emerald, prone to unearned self-importance and acting too often on whims, annoys the alien by planting in a field a statue of a horse, stolen from a Wild West tourist attraction run by Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), a one-time child television star. Turns out Ricky has the same sensitivity to the presence of the cloud as OJ but instead of leaving well alone plans to publicize its existence to help market his ailing venture.

I’m not sure where the rampaging chimpanzee fits into the equation since that incident occurred in 1998 and Ricky was the youngster hiding under the table.

But once the quartet turn their attention to attempting to lure the alien onto a camera, previous efforts ruined by the alien’s ability to knock out any electricity supply, it turns into quite a cinematic spectacle, the kind of equivalent to Apollo 13 (1995) or The Martian (2015) where survivors of catastrophe have to come up with ideas out of left field.

Adding a bit of spice surprisingly enough is some interesting comedy, OJ and Emerald rubbing each other up the wrong way, Angel complaining of being dumped by a model-turned-actress, and some deadpan one-liners.

There’s a certainly a welcome freshness in terms of the characters, all superb inventions, recognisable as only too human, some of the family dysfunction but none of the obsession of Roy Neary from Close Encounters, nor the enclosed world of the space travellers from Alien whose personalities are generally revealed only in relation to their reaction to the predator, and none of the governmental mumbo-jumbo of ID4.

As I mentioned, the acting is a huge plus. Often sci-fi characterisation is paper-thin, the director thinking, wrongly, that audiences just want to get to the monsters. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, 2017) is top-notch but energy-on-a-stick Keke Palmer (Alice, 2022) runs him very close. Brandon Perea (American Insurrection, 2021) and Steven Yeung (The Humans, 20201) are also excellent, investing their characters with considerable ambiguity, while veteran  character actor Michael Wincott has his first movie outing since Forsaken (2015).

I take issue with the notion that director Jordan Peele (Get Out) has fallen into the M Night Shyamalen (The Sixth Sense, 1999) trap of following an inspired debut with subsequently less inspiring pictures. This is a very bold effort for his third outing and only really let down by the fact that, in carrying out the roles of writer, producer and director, he doesn’t have anyone to rein him in when the ideas go off-piste. Trimming twenty minutes out and losing the self-consciously arty elements and adding a bit more clarity and spending a bit more on CGI and this might have been a real winner.

As it is, worth seeing but with reservations.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

9 thoughts on “Nope (2022) **** – Seen at the Cinema”

  1. Yep, you’re damn right ’cause it’s a bit confused. Peele is full of ideas , and happily, he’s got terrific cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema on one side, and talented composer Michael Abels on the other side. And in the end, it’s interesting and fresh. Far more than a Shyamalan movie. And the Alien is such a frightning beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m on Team Shyamalan as it was the very first thing I thought of when the credits started to roll after seeing Nope. I thought Get Out was a very good movie. I did not think Us was that great, but was willing to give him a pass because he took a big swing and at least made contact. It just wasn’t close to Get Out’s quality in my opinion. And with Nope, I’m definitely now putting him on that M. Night “proceed with caution” list. I do think somewhere in Nope there was a pretty decent movie residing. It just never appeared for me. Visuals, sound, editing, acting…and even the setting/premise I all liked. Story as it all played out…did not like. For me, I would definitely rewatch Get Out and Us. This film, I never have to see again. I am probably being so harsh because I do believe Peele may yet achieve the level many others are putting him at already. I may be just a little more demanding because of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think with directors who come out of left field with an unusual hit Hollywood just lets them be until they dry up rather than questioning what they’re up to. This was so good and so bad at the same time, the good outweighing the bad in my opinion, but next time out with no controls what will happen? Plus this has at least made some decent cash, not a flop by any means.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I got a Rod Serling vibe and sensed a nod to X Files from Not Of Planet Earth… but wasn’t entertained in the least. The message some got was ‘…not just wild horses; it’s our imagination that can’t be tamed.’ Disappointed the song ‘signs, signs, everywhere a sign, blocking the scenery, messing up my mind…’ wasn’t theme song. Did anyone notice the ‘surrender Peele’ letters written across the sky? Perceptive, multi angled review!

    Liked by 2 people

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