With “Nope,” Jordan Peele Defies Expectations Once More

Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, And Steven Yeun Feature In The Film Nope 

Nope, Jordan Peele’s eagerly anticipated third picture was held a close secret until its July 22 premiere. In his few interviews, Peele has been highly secretive about what occurs in the film. The teaser is barely more than a frightening montage of evil forces and craned necks. Because of his evasiveness, many crazy fan theories and predictions have been made. The movie will be about government drones, time travellers, or the MMA fighter Angela Hill.

The Haywoods are a family of Black ranchers who gained notoriety by breeding stunt horses for movies and television shows, as told in the book Nope. Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David), the patriarch, always anticipated that his son Otis Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya), and daughter Emerald (Keke Palmer), would one day take over the family business. Still, none of them ever imagined that Otis Sr. would pass away suddenly and quite mysteriously following a strange encounter with an unimportant cloud.

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As Nope begins, Otis Jr. (also known as OJ) is doing what he can to keep up Haywood’s Hollywood Horses. Emerald makes it apparent that she’s ready to join the entertainment industry in a non-equine role. The Haywood siblings are still mourning, each in their own unique ways. Like most siblings, OJ and Em have a conflict that Nope briefly touches into without deviating too far from the intended route. However, their father’s passing draws Em and OJ together in a way that effectively launches Nope’s tale and highlights one of the most critical themes in the movie, which is what it means to participate in the entertainment industry, particularly as a person of colour.

Emerald inherited their father’s showmanship and intense pride in their great-great-grandfather, the nameless Black jockey featured in Eadweard Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion circa 1878 card series, unlike OJ, the family’s soft-spoken stoic who enjoys the company of horses. Thankfully, racism (or some anthropomorphized version) is not the terrifying threat that causes Nope’s characters to finally say the movie’s name out loud. However, the phantom of it can be seen in how Nope links the jockey from The Horse in Motion to his fictitious offspring: accomplished individuals whose skills are frequently ignored and underestimated by others in the field, such as renowned filmmakers Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott).

Even others who are eager to work with the Haywoods, such as former child actress turned local show cowboy Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), are hesitant to view them as anything other than the people who look after animals — people who are so low on the call list that they are practically invisible. One of the ways Nope begins to create a mood of dread before any of its human characters understand they aren’t alone out there in the desert is through the feeling of being hemmed in by other people’s expectations.

When OJ sees something weird one evening while pursuing an escaped horse, he doesn’t really want to believe his eyes and doesn’t want to inform his sister. When one of the odd power outages affecting their ranch begins, he cannot help but hear the sound of screams echoing through the valleys. Soon Em, too, sees the unsettling sight of her brother on edge. If you’ve seen any of Nope’s trailers or compelling posters, you probably already know what type of animals the film is about.

However, Nope surpasses by turning a little bit meta when its protagonists realize that they’ll have to fight for their lives using, among other things, cameras rather than trying to sell itself as an entirely fresh take on the sort of picture as it looks to be.

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Nope’s expansive vistas of the California desert have a majesty that feels indicative of both Hoyte van Hoytema’s creative sensibilities and the development of director Jordan Peele as a filmmaker. Peele has always had an eye for big, visual storytelling. As OJ and Em’s ranch serves as their new centre of operations, where they intend to capture and chronicle whatever is stalking them and their neighbours, Nope’s arresting, almost portrait-like pictures of its heroes instantly bring to mind Western masterpieces like Sidney Poitier’s Buck and the Preacher. The clever and creative ways that Nope continuously makes you aware of the danger that OJ and Em must face, however, have far more in common with movies like Signs by M. Night Shyamalan and Attack the Block by Joe Cornish.

OJ and Em are characters that are so squarely in Kaluuya and Palmer’s comfort zones that their acting sometimes feels like archetypal stuff you’ve seen from them before, yet it fits in the context of Nope’s somewhat heightened realism. Kaluuya captures the same laconic cowboy masculinity that characterized the leading men of films like George Stevens’ Shane. At the same time, Palmer stands out with an effortless exuberance that feels totally her own.

Both of the Haywoods don’t precisely have the air of “genuine” individuals; instead, they have the exaggerated personas of creatives desperate to get into the movie industry at any cost. Nope is a text about individuals giving all they have to capture the ideal shot. As foolish as it is for them to maintain their ground while filming their encounter with the aliens, it makes a certain emotional logic.

Nope leaves a lot less room for interpretation than in Peele’s other movies, and it’s for the better since the picture switches gears to allow plenty of opportunities to showcase its VFX budget. In Nope, director Jordan Peele throws all of his cards on the table with a succession of magnificent and astonishing set pieces that demonstrate his capacity to create terrifying horrors on an epic scale that are equally as terrifying as the more intimate, smaller ones we’re used to seeing from him.


This is not meant to imply that Nope is unimportant; instead, with this film, he adds a fresh chapter to the illustrious canon of Black westerns (the Sidney Poitier-directed Buck and the Preacher is referred explicitly to visually). He explores themes related to a society’s preoccupation with domesticating nature and making money from pageantry. The creative title and OJ and Emerald’s behaviours, like those of Regina Hall, always dubious Brenda in the Scary Movie series, humorously parody Black viewers and their typical reactions to horror films. These characters are cautious and astute about plainly sinister circumstances. “Nope” is more than simply a word; it’s a survival strategy.

However, the goals place a high priority on suspense and ambience. Its painstakingly planned action sequences, stunning photography by Hoyte van Hoytema, and intensely immersive sound design by Johnnie Burn make this his most ambitious picture in terms of aesthetics. It’s entertaining to watch since Peele seems more fun with his audience than ever with a complete picture.

It’s great to see a director working in this style, conjuring familiarity while keeping spectators on the edge of their seats in an age of sequels, prequels, reboots, and franchises-within-franchises. My excitement for anything and everything Peele produces next has only grown due to Nope.

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