Nope (2022)

JULY 21, 2022


There's an argument to be made that Nope is the weakest of Jordan Peele's three films, but the key takeaway is that it's still very good and worth seeing, which is pretty good for a "low point." And over time it might even change; the relative messiness of Us' third act reveals will continue to nag at me and weigh that experience down on rewatches, but I feel that with this movie, future viewings will merely highlight things I missed the first time around. If I'm right, it'll slowly improve its (already high) standing and, fifty years from now, might still rank high on what I hope is a lengthy (and competitive) list of genre must-sees.

See, the thing with Peele's work here is that almost nothing is a throwaway. His background as a comedian has a fun little twist here; sometimes there's a line that just seems like something he's throwing in as a pop culture gag, such as a reference to The Scorpion King, but then it actually has a payoff later. Keke Palmer's character accidentally photo bombs some kids who are taking a novelty picture at a theme park, and it's a cute little moment that shows her carefree attitude (and also a weird reference to Holes of all things), but it's also establishing a device she will use on purpose nearly two hours later. Tracking every instance of such things would be impossible on a first time viewing, so I would bet money on finding more when I find the time to see it again (given the 130 minute length, I'm guessing that'll be on Blu-ray).

And they're not always joke based, either. That part in the trailer (speaking of which - this review is fairly spoiler free, but only to those who have seen the trailers, so if that's not you I'd read further with caution!), where Palmer's Emerald tells the story of their family ranch, with Daniel Kaluuya (as her brother OJ) noting she missed a "great" before "great great grandfather" is a fine little detail that tells you he's more on top of the history than her, but later on we hear their father's version of the story on a commercial, and you realize she's just reciting his lines (hence missing a "great") from an ad that's forever burned into her memory. We don't get too much in the way of dialogue about their family history (I'd guess 90% of Kaluuya's lines consist of two or three words at most, in fact), but these subtle moments fill in quite a bit on their own.

There's also some traditional humor; in fact it might actually be the funniest of his three films. Kaluuya's understated manner paves the way for not one but two invocations of the film's title, both hilarious (he also turns the simple act of locking a door into a kneeslapper). Palmer's energy can always be counted on to lighten the mood when necessary, and most of the supporting cast (Brandon Perea in particular) gets more than one moment to shine. The darker comedy is also spot on; without spoiling the particulars, a moment where Steven Yeun's character gives a shoutout to an old friend has one of the bleakest sight gags in recent memory. I keep wondering if Peele will continue to make genre films or if he'll branch out into dramas or action (Keanu doesn't count; he didn't direct that one!), but for now I'm just thrilled we have someone taking the "it can't be scary AND funny" myth and dispelling it so easily time and time again.

But yes, aliens. The actual nature of the otherworldly menace is a surprise I won't spoil here (I wouldn't even say as much as I have if the new trailer didn't spell it out after being fairly cryptic with the first one; for the record, it's that older one I've embedded below), but I will say that it yields a higher body count than I expected. And there's another "villain" in the film that is even more horrific (Peele himself has been spilling the beans on this one, so it's fair game); a chimp actor who freaked out on the set of a crappy '90s sitcom and beat his co-stars to a pulp during a taping. This seemingly pointless backstory actually has two reasons for being: one to establish the backstory of Yeun's character, who runs the Old West themed park that is located near the heroes' horse ranch (he was a young actor on the show who witnessed the entire thing), and the other to show how animals have long been a disposable element in Hollywood, as if they were more like props than living creatures.

And that ties into one of the film's major themes, of how chasing the high of Hollywood can leave you a truly broken individual. When one of the horses is briefly spooked, it's enough for the production (already showing zero respect to the animal or its handlers) to fire them on the spot and replace it with a CGI version. Perea's Angel is dumped instantly by his girlfriend the second she lands a CW pilot, and nearly every character of note sees the alien presence not as something to fear or escape from, but a potential avenue to riches and fame. This idea is hammered home fairly early, though you might not realize it at the time, when Yeun delivers a monologue about his childhood trauma, proudly noting that it was spoofed on SNL (where he, an Asian child, was played by that week's host: Scott Wolf - an incredibly on point bit of racial commentary), seemingly oblivious to the tragedy that inspired it. It's not a movie that glamorizes show business, is what I'm saying, and among this film's relatively small group of characters, it's clear that the closer you are (or desire to be) part of that world, the more messed up you are. As nearly anyone can tell you, it's not only a hard business to break into at all, but an even harder one to stay relevant in, and it is subtly but no less depressing that these characters are clinging to their last hopes of "making it" in their way, ultimately risking their lives just to try to get a picture of the alien ship on the hopes they can get back in the spotlight.

It's a note that hit hard for me in an unexpected way; there's a scene shot on Runnymede St in LA, a street I myself once lived on (not in the spot shown to be clear) but was forced to leave when the owners decided to sell. Financial restraints kept us from buying it ourselves, and now we're on our third home here, each subsequent one further away from the area I more or less moved out here to be a part of (Hollywood/Burbank) only for the jobs I get to never allow me to actually live there. The people I work for? They live there, while I have to move further away when rent goes up. I hope this isn't coming off wrong; to be clear I'm very grateful for what I have, but I also never truly forget that I left my family and friends behind all those years ago only to end up doing the sort of work I probably could have done in Massachusetts, still basically living paycheck to paycheck. And I know for a fact I'm not alone in that situation, so seeing that street sign was a sobering reminder that I'm not exactly far removed from the heroes in the film. I COULD move back home, but who knows? "Maybe things will turn around...?"

(Speaking of dying dreams and local connections; the Fry's electronic store in Burbank makes an appearance, with its clerk being one of the film's major characters. The chain went out of business last year, so while folks elsewhere won't think anything of it, us here in Los Angeles might feel a little sad seeing it again. That said, as my friend Nick noted, the clerk being helpful may be the most out there sci-fi concept in the entire film.)

But it's also a tribute to Hollywood and moviemaking, with a low-key "the show must go on" kind of element to the proceedings. The alien presence emits a sort of EMP when it draws near, which makes their plans to get video of it all but impossible but also prevents them from driving away when it gives chase. But then they use it to their advantage when the ship is in its stealth mode - they track its movements by setting up Skydancers (aka "inflatable tube men") all around the area, connected to portable batteries. So when a tube man deflates, they know it's there, and when it deflates another, they know which direction it's headed. "Macguyvering" something is an every day occurrence on a shoot, as things always go wrong and yet a million reasons make waiting impossible, forcing the crew to come up with a solution that might seem silly but will get the job done. Incidentally I was an extra on a friend's music video just the day before, and (as I have in the past) marveled at how many unsung heroes it takes to pull off just a quick shot of something simple, so seeing crew types and their quick thinking get their due made me happy.

All that stuff is all well and good, but I couldn't help but think the film could have been a little tighter. Michael Wincott plays a cinematographer who is roped into their plans to film the ship (he's a film guy; their digital cameras are of course useless with the power drain) and it takes forever for him to make his return after being introduced early, and there are other moments that, in retrospect, seem like they could have been saved for the Blu-ray, with Peele telling us they were cut for pacing. With most of the alien carnage left to our imagination (there's a real Jaws vibe to the third act, by the way) it occasionally feels like there's more buildup than payoff, at least in the traditional visual sense. The surprisingly sad backdrop to the film kept me engaged, but that won't be the case for everyone (particularly those who believe anyone with even the loosest connection to Hollywood is "an elite"). Also, if you were excited about Keith David's appearance: don't get your hopes up, as if you've seen the trailer you've also seen most of his screentime. Not really a knock on the film; more on the marketing for giving away what was obviously supposed to be a surprise for genre fans instead of a selling point.

Basically it's a "chewer" kind of film, the one that you'll keep thinking about for a while after, which makes it a bit odd that this is Peele's first summer release (the other two came out in the later months of winter) and is about an alien invasion. That, along with its reported $70m budget, will have folks primed to see more action/spectacle than is offered, even if it wasn't abundantly clear from his earlier films that he's interested in ideas, not 'splosions. So I hope people go in with the right frame of mind to fully appreciate what it offers instead of dismissing it for what it doesn't.

What say you?

P.S. The freakiest thing about the experience wasn't even in the movie. Right before I left to drive to the theater, Gowan's "Strange Animal" came up on shuffle. I hadn't heard it for a while and considered letting it finish before I got in the car, but didn't want to risk a long concession line or something making me miss the beginning. So I sighed and shut the song off only a few seconds in... and then it showed up in the film! It's the theme song for the sitcom! I couldn't believe it. If IMDB is accurate/complete, the only other movie it's ever been in is Another Wolfcop, which is the only reason I know it in the first place. And I was right, the line WAS long so I missed most of the trailers. Got to see Nicole Kidman tell me how great AMC is though, on a screen that had a shadow over it from some fixture on the ceiling.


  1. As a Canuck, I was jazzed that two Canadian 80's hits got call outs in the film: Gowan's Strange Animal and Corey Hart's Sunglasses At Night.
    Agree that it is a 'chewer', and I'll definitely watch it again that get a better view of some of the more subtle things. That I want to watch it again I think is a testament to how good it is.

  2. S

    I'd also mention there's actually no indication this IS an alien. It might be, or it might some kind of terrestrial cryptid - atmospheric beasts and sky jellfisy are definitely a long time thing in cryptozoology.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget