It’s a frivolous comparison: one’s Hollywood-built, the other is European arthouse. But Haneke says more about spectacle within a holiday home than Peele attempts across a vast Californian valley, and the stupendously superior budget succeeds only in blunting Nope's sharp potential. Perhaps the contradiction of scrutinising spectacle while making an IMAX spectacular was too much of a paradox to overcome.
Left to right: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Brandon Perea as OJ, Emerald, and Angel in Nope. Photo: UPI
That’s not to say Nope is unambitious: it’s Peele’s most experimental effort. The film opens on a Bible verse about spectacle before cutting to an unforgettably surreal shot of a chimp on a sitcom set. This eerie, slow-burn tone (departing from his previous films) continues in the warm and desolate hills of southern California, following a family of horse ranchers who lend and train horses for movies.
After a few strange happenings, involving coins and keys dropping from the sky, sibling ranchers OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) realise a UFO is whirring over their land. Rather than resorting to the Close Encounters solution of soldiers and scientists, the brother/sister pair decide to capture the thing on camera and make a killing with the evidence. But it has to be the perfect shot: ‘impossible’, worthy of Oprah.
Kaluuya is oddly apathetic as OJ, suiting the character's evasive and introverted personality. This runs in contrast with Palmer as the scene-stealing younger sister, who craves that attention. Their sibling chemistry is infectious – rivals one minute, best friends the next – and it's one of the film’s strongest assets. No surprise considering Peele's comedy background with enjoyably funny duos.
But aside from their horse-lending business not doing too well (for reasons best not revealed here), OJ and Em's motivations aren’t terribly convincing. As the UFO becomes more threatening, would the characters really be risking their lives to snap a shot that may or may not be believed?
Steven Yeun as Ricky Park in Nope. Photo: UPI
Although the premise and execution – peppered with many WTF moments – carry your curiosity until the end, the desired payoffs often collapse. One abandoned storyline involves a former sitcom star, Ricky Park (delicately played by Minari’s Steven Yeun), who runs a neighbouring Wild West theme park and has an intense, violent backstory. But don’t expect a narrative reason behind that backstory… because there isn’t one. Peele expects you to be satisfied with Yeun’s blank stare into his own trauma. A surprising waste of a great actor.
You have this a lot with Nope: expectations rise and fly like the UFO, only to land with a collectively disappointing crash when the end credits roll. This is Peele’s longest film at 130 minutes and his most expensive at $68 million, and you have to wonder why all those loose threads and red herrings were necessary.
Worse, Peele barely punctures the idea of spectacle. Nope proceeds as a darkly fascinating sci-fi, but concludes as a two-act theme park ride. Is that the point: spectacle without satisfaction? Or did Peele just have a topical theme, fragments of stories, and a misled determination to stick them together?
Nope will be in UK cinemas on Friday 12 August.
|What||Nope movie review|
12 Aug 22 – 12 Aug 23, IN CINEMAS
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|