When you begin your directorial career with what will likely be the best film you ever make, I guess there’s nowhere to go but down.
“Nope” is the third film from director Jordan Peele, and follows two siblings (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) who begin to suspect their ranch has been visited by a UFO. Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Wrenn Schmidt, and Keith David also star.
I’ve been a fan of Jordan Peele since his comedy days in “Key & Peele,” and I like his first two horror directorial efforts, “Get Out” and “Us” (to varying degrees). His latest film “Nope” was near the top of my 2022 watchlist, and while I think it has plenty of merit, it is the first true misstep of Peele’s filmography.
Daniel Kaluuya burst onto the scene alongside Peele in 2017, earning an Oscar nomination for his performance in “Get Out” (he then won Best Supporting Actor in 2021 for his brilliant work in “Judas and the Black Messiah”). Here, Kaluuya isn’t fighting racial stereotypes or oozing with charisma like in his previous roles; in fact he really isn’t given much meat to work with, period. We aren’t given much backstory on him, and after a tragedy occurs in the film’s opening scene, his stoic persona seems unchanged. This is more a knock on Peele’s script than Kaluuya, but it’s just a shame a great actor like him is given so little to do.
Keke Palmer, who has been around Hollywood since the mid-2000s with teenager roles in films such as “Akeelah and the Bee,” hadn’t really gotten many true vehicles until “Hustlers” in 2019. That showed that she could hold her own dramatically, as well as have some energy, and “Nope” gives her a chance to be both funny and terrified. She is given a bit more character development than Kaluuya, but really only due to one scene where she talks about their father, and also has several out-of-place lines (that, again, falls more on Peele’s shoulders more than hers).
The rest of the cast is made up of cartoon characters, saying things and reacting to events in ways no human being ever would. “Us” had a similar problem, sacrificing a dramatic or tension-filled moment for the sake of a bad joke, and Peele clearly didn’t care what his critics had to say about that while writing the script here.
The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is pretty great, as to be expected by the guy who shot “Interstellar,” “Ad Astra,” and “Spectre.” Similar to how “Jaws” showed open oceans to implement the fear of not knowing where the shark could be, Peele and van Hoytema pan up to open skies and wide-reaching mountain ranges, making the audience question if there is something sinister hiding behind the clouds.
The issue with the film, however, circles back to Peele’s script. At this point, having delivered two box office successes and an Oscar win, Peele essentially has carte blanche as a writer/director/producer (made evident by his budgets increasing from $4.5 million to $20 million, and now $68 million, a lot for an original horror film). With this freedom comes less push-back, and that’s made clear by “Nope’s” climax where Peele just begins throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Things become very noisy and borderline nonsensical, and any tension, mystery, or eerie tone that he built comes crashing down.
Like Peele’s other films, “Nope” will need a second viewing to fully digest and pick up on his hidden messages and underlying themes. I’m very interested to see the public’s response to the film (all I have to go off of at the time of writing is my mom, who liked it much less than I did), though I hope it is a major hit for theaters and I still eagerly await Peele’s fourth effort.
Critics Rating: 5/10