Nope wants to make you look | Pittsburgh City Paper

Nope wants to make you look

click to enlarge Two men and a woman stand in a doorway and look up at the sky.
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

We can’t help ourselves. A British study found that 29% of accidents on the highway caused a slowdown in the other lane. We have to look at the horror.

In Hollywood, this indescribable feeling of not being able to tear yourself away is packaged, bottled, and produced in mass quantities. It keeps the whole thing churning; putting pain on screen keeps those eyes from turning back to the road.

Filmmaker Jordan Peele compels you to keep staring. Nope, his latest spectacle, is defined by its characters gazing at the expansive California sky, unable to pry themselves away from the danger directly overhead. It’s a cliche to say, but go see this one in the theater, and in IMAX if you can. The long, slow pans across the desert night are almost impossibly impressive in their scale, swallowing you whole in the wonder of it all right there with the characters.

And about those characters. There aren’t many of them, but man do they pack a punch. Nope tells the story of the Haywood family, a group of Black Hollywood horse wranglers who have trained equine stars for as long as movies existed (as explained in the film, their ancestor rode the horse in Eadweard Muybridge's famous motion picture photography). 

After the freak death of their father (Keith David), the stoic and sardonic O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) and his boisterous and brash sister, Em (Keke Palmer), don’t exactly have the company firing on all cylinders. So when a series of strange occurrences start to plague the family ranch, they jump at the chance to potentially make a dollar on selling footage of a UFO (or UAP), with help from a burned-out tech store employee (Brandon Perea). In a parallel storyline, Jupe (Steven Yeun), an 80s child star-turned-theme park with a lot of unresolved trauma, has his own motives to capture what’s going on in town.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering her already impressive resume, that Keke Palmer is a fucking star. In a film with Kaluuya, maybe the best and most versatile star currently working today, and a fascinating and layered performance by Yeun, Palmer steals the show, swaggering and calculating her way through every shot, instantly launching herself into the realm of all-time horror protagonists. Her confidence reflects everything about Nope, a movie with so many ideas and so much balls-to-the-wall, no holds barred filmmaking that you can’t help but just sit there and smile. This isn’t just Peele going three-for-three, this is him proving he’s operating in a different stratosphere than anyone else working today, taking sky-high budgets and delivering Spielberg-type blockbuster appeal with his own unique, bleakly funny writing style.

Peele has also made himself one hell of a horror movie. Where his breakout hit Get Out leaned more into the sociological and disturbing, and the follow-up Us had its moments of terror, Nope consistently delivers some truly scary set pieces. Everyone in the film is chasing that one magical movie moment  — “The Oprah Shot,” as O.J. and Em call it  — sure to bring them fame and fortune. But as Peele is quick to remind us, that doesn’t come without suffering first. And boy, do the characters suffer. This isn’t a typical alien-invasion film; in fact, we barely know anything about the film’s monsters. Yet, from a TV monkey to one of the most claustrophobic 30 seconds in recent memory, there’s enough jaw-dropping horror to keep any diehard fan more than satisfied.

For all its visually stunning and terrifying glory, Nope does have its flaws, coming off as overstuffed with ideas, yet ending as suddenly as it began. But Peele’s commitment to overstuffing, to truly going for it, should be commended whenever possible. At one point, O.J. is morosely going over the safety precautions on a shoot, when in comes Em, telling the entire crew that they know what they’re doing and that everyone is going to have a great time. It’s going to be a painful ride, but it’ll be a hell of a show.

Nope is now playing in theaters nationwide.