NOPE
(***)-VITO CARLI

"...imaginative, thought provoking and exciting, but it feels a little too long."

A Big Yes for Nope

(090822)  Jordan Peele is one of the most respected of the newer generation of horror directors (others include Ari Aster, Ti West, Karyn Kusami, Robert Eggars, Fede Alvarez, and Jennifer Kent.) Like his other two films (Get Out and Us!), this one meshes conventional horror thrills and tropes with provocative racial commentary. It is worth seeing, but this film will probably neither blow away or disappoint fans of his other films and the genre in general.

Like Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, this film is full of allusions to other (often better) films and it is an attempt to critique and comment on overall film culture which the main characters love even though they are victims of it. Some of the allusions viewers might recognize a character lifted up by a tornado (Wizard of Oz), a bunch of unalike characters teaming up on a dangerous mission to hunt a dangerous carnivore (Jaws), and there is rain of blood (nothing to do with Slayer) like in The Shining and perhaps the remake to War of the Worlds

Nope is about a brother and sister team of animal trainers that run a business handed down from their dad. The two main characters are polar opposites. There is the perpetually serious OJ or Otis Jr, (Judas and the Black Messiah’s Daniel Kaluuya) and the much more social, amiable and free-spirited Emerald (Keke Palmer of Hustlers and CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story)

Because of their dad’s Hollywood stories we find out firsthand about the extreme racism that existed in Hollywood’s early days and how many African Americans were deleted from film’s official history. The family has been paying their dues and it seems tragic that they are barely holding onto the business and never got or seem destined to get their just rewards.

At one point one the character, their neighbor, Jupe (Steven Yeun) discusses an old sitcom he was on as a child called Gordy’s Home about a loveable chimp. On the set one day, the usually docile chimp goes on a rampage seemingly without reason (perhaps he was surprised on his birthday by popping balloons.) The chimp slaughters or maims most of the cast only leaves one person alone, Jupe who is hidden under a table. At that moment the chimp reverts to his docile self and seems to plead with Jupe for forgiveness until he is gunned down by the police. This is the most horrific and tragic part of the film and it seems to caution against the dangers of forcing wild animals to become more human. No matter how much they seem like one of us they still might have what Joseph Conrad called: “a heart of darkness.”

One of the horses that the couple trains works on a movie set and one time he inexplicably goes wild. The film reminds me a bit of 70s ecological horror films because in movies like Frogs, Willard and Night of the Lepus, humankind uses and abuses the earth and animals until at some point nature (in this case the horses) turns against humanity Hitchcock's The Birds is an important precursor of those films. The situation is also a bit different here because at least in some instances (particularly in the case of the horse) the animals act out violently against the humans who subjugate them apparently because they sense the possible appearance of ET predators. The concept of the ET’s is different here than usual because the flying saucers are not the vehicles the aliens travel in, they are the actual aliens.

Other bizarre things begin to happen and not all of them can be explained by bad luck; some seem to point to an alien presence. Improbably Otis Senior, OJ's dad, dies when a projectile hits him in the eye. Powerful storms appear out of nowhere, the power cuts out without reason, and worse of all an ominous cloud appears in the sky that never seems to go away. Their neighbor Jupe (who turned the nearby area into a Wild West theme park) is also aware of the strange phenomena and agrees that it must be aliens.

As the alien devours more and people, the film suggests that the alien’s erasure of people parallels Hollywood’s erasure of important people of color from film history. In the real world, Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion, is considered the very first assembly of photographs used to create a motion picture. The clip is two seconds of an African American jockey riding a horse, looped to infinity. This jockey Emerald claims was her great, great, great grandfather who appeared on that horse, Hollywood's first film star and a piece of forgotten Hollywood history.

As alien presence hovers around for quite a while unseen (like the shark in Jaws) and it stays hidden to prolong the film and heighten the suspense. The brother and sister (OJ and Emerald) have trouble photographing the alien because it absorbs all electricity so they team up with a pro photographer who uses an electricity less camera. But the photographer is also a conspiracy nut so it is unclear if the viewer can trust him. Also a mysterious man on a motorcycle, possibly from TMZ, shows up and tries to photograph the aliens before our heroes. The film progresses it becomes about getting the perfect shot (aka: the opera shot) of the alien as a small team comprised of: Otis Jr., Emerald and a hip techie named Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), and most importantly, a mentally unstable, Antlers Holtz (Brandon Perea) are all willing to risk almost death to get that good picture. When the final standoff happens between the alien and cowboy it is shot like a spaghetti western sequence and the music sounds like it came out of a Sergio Leoni film.

At times the film is imaginative, thought provoking and exciting, but it feels a little too long. My attention tended to waver in the second half  and they could have easily trimmed half an hour. Perhaps this would have made a better hour-long Twilight Zone episode (perhaps, the films true origin point). Also, the symbolism often sometimes seems like it is muddled or heavy handed. But despite the fact that Jordan Peel’s new genre mashing film never quite rises to the level of his first two movies: Get Out and Us!, it is definitely the best satiric sci fi/horror/action/Afrocentric Western film of the year. Although flawed-it has been one of the genre film highlights of the summer.
 

Directed & Written  by:    Jordan Peele
Starring:    Daniele Kaluga, Keke Palmer, Steven Yuen
Released:    07/18/22 (USA)
Length:    130 minutes
Rating:    R for some violence/bloody images/language
 throughout
Available On:    At press time playing at some local theatres

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.
Vittorio Carli will be performing at Fitzgeralds on Tuesday, September 13.

NOPE  © 2022 Monkeypaw Productions
Review © 2022 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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