Space Is The Location For Jordan Peele’s Subversive Sci-Fi Update
In the arid, IP-weary cinematic landscape of 2022, Jordan Peele feels like something of a unicorn: an auteur filmmaker whose mere presence above the title elicits a kind of collective chill in both audiences and reviews that no crazy multiverse or reanimated dinosaurs can quite match. And he essentially did it with just two films over five years, cementing his signature style – spooky, conceptual, socially shrewd – with a speed and clarity of purpose that most directors take half a lifetime to define.
Nope (in theaters July 22) accordingly arrives with no small expectations, and no bit of a mystery: the 35 million+ people who have viewed at least one of the two versions of the trailer online will come up with the idea that he may be a play on an old-school UFO movie, or at least something vaguely extraterrestrial. And they know it marks a reunion with his get out star Daniel Kaluuya, who is now, like Peele, an Oscar winner. (They were both poorly served by the Academy again, but that’s a story for another time.)
Universal images Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer in “No”
It’s also the first starring role of this caliber for Keke Palmer, a former Nickelodeon kid whose prickly, dynamic presence on the fringes of movies like 2019’s Hustlers seemed to be begging for a closer close-up. Here, she can hold the restless center of almost any scene she finds herself in as Emerald Haywood, the showboating sister of Kaluuya’s more cautious and introspective Otis Junior. Otis Senior (Keith David) isn’t long for this world, or at least this screen: he dies in the opening scene, shot down by mysterious space detritus that falls from the sky one day on the family ranch outside from Los Angeles. (“What’s a bad miracle, do they have a word for it?” OJ asks sadly at one point, looking like he already knows the answer.) guys, helped bring the practice of horses in Hollywood, earning an inaugural spot for black wranglers in movie lore.
That and five bucks won’t buy them a bag of carrots, though, if they can’t get their stallions to perform on a green screen. And even back at the ranch, the cattle still seem scared. But aren’t animals always the first to know when something is wrong? There’s a man named Ricky “Skirt” Park (Minari’s Steven Yeun), busy running his own stampede at a retro western-themed amusement park down the street, who may have some thoughts about the weird weather hanging over the valley. Jupe was once a child star himself, until something went terribly wrong with a chimpanzee on a sitcom over 20 years ago; now, he’s working some kind of rhinestone-cowboy shtick with his wife and kids, though he’s always eager to revisit the old glory days if anyone asks, or even if he doesn’t.
Revealing much more about what follows seems like an unnecessary spoiler, though it’s also fair to say that Peele never leaned so close to the start of Spielberg (or if you’re feeling less charitable, M. Night Shyamalan at halfway). Its storyline – laced with flashbacks and unhurried character moments – has long been a tease, both elliptical and self-explanatory when it comes to the central mystery, though it’s clear it’s absorbed a lifetime of Close Encounters lore, and much darker tours too. The cast, as always, is on point: Palmer’s Emerald is loose and funny and kinetically alive, the kind of final female hero that the scariest movies only pretend to create, and Kaluuya remains one of the inner actors. the most fascinating to watch on screen. His JO doesn’t talk much and often moves even less, but so much is happening in him that the eye never wanders; its immobility is a centrifugal force.
Wide angle cinematography, by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Dunkirk), is beautifully expansive, and Michael Abel’s score slams and shudders. The prevailing atmosphere is an imminent and sunny tension (as in Ari Aster’s film Midsommar, daylight does not signal safety here). However, for all the film’s growing supernatural events, what’s less clearly drawn, and likely to prove less satisfying to intrigue-hungry audiences, are the whys and hows of its conclusion. Peele’s scripts have always seemed to be meta-text; this one switches between classic genre stuff and a deliberately fragmented play on some all-American tropes – flying saucers, sitcoms, creepy terror – filtered through a fresh, deeply self-aware lens. Like a science fiction fable, Nope feels both more slippery and less viscerally satisfying than the relatively straightforward horror of get out or even 2019 We, but it still sticks. The truth is out there, or up there, in that oddly still cloud that looms like a cotton ball anvil above Haywood Ranch; it’s Peele’s prerogative to build his world below and leave the rest. Grade: B+