Nope (2022) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Something Wicked This Way Flies

Jordan Peele’s third feature film “Nope” is a terrific genre piece to admire and enjoy. Although there are some parts which do not seem to work as well as intended, I was entertained a lot by how the movie skillfully engages us from the beginning to the end, and even those seemingly weak parts of the film somehow fit into its big picture as I reflect more on them after watching it two days ago.

Because the trailer of the film does not show much of what it is about, I will only describe the story as little as possible without spoiling your entertainment. After quoting an excerpt from the Bible just like Peele’s previous film “Us” (2019) and then jolting us with its gradually chilling prologue scene, the movie, which is mainly set in a horse ranch located in some remote area of California, introduces us to Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) and his son Otis Jr. “OJ” Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya). When they are training a horse in their ranch as usual, something inexplicable suddenly happens upon them, and, along with the prologue scene, this succinctly establishes the overall tone of the movie in addition to giving us another big shock and surprise.

After that gruesome incident, OJ tries to run and maintain the ranch just like his father did for many years. They have been known well for training horses for movie and commercial production, and his father openly claimed that his ancestor was actually that African American jockey in “Plate 626” from Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion series of photographs, though there is not anything to support his claim.

Because of his rather introverted personality, OJ lets his younger sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) do some promotion while he is mostly focusing on horses, and we get a little humorous moment as she cheerfully promotes their ranch a bit in front of a bunch of people preparing to shoot a commercial. However, due to a subsequent little happening, they unfortunately get fired, and that makes OJ sullener and more frustrated than before.

Meanwhile, a series of odd things happen around their ranch, and the movie slowly dials up the level of tension after OJ comes to spot something very strange in the sky. He and Emerald decide to delve more into this mysterious matter for themselves, and they get some technical help from Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), a young local tech salesman who also gets involved into their circumstance later in the story.

Now I should be more discreet about explaining to you on how much I enjoyed the rest of the film. If you watched the trailer, you may already have guessed what you are going to see, but you will be surprised by how the movie dexterously plays on your expectation, and I particularly appreciate its effective utilization of sound effects. I will not go into details here, but there are truly frightening moments which depend a lot on sound effects, and I was often quite chilled as watching the film in a Dolby Cinema screening room.

In addition, the movie shows some twisted sense of humor via two other main characters in the film. I was initially not sure about whether a subplot involved with Steve Yeun’s character is really connected that well with the main narrative, but I guess this gives some personal motive behind what this character attempts to do, and the movie does not disappoint us as striking us with another chilling highlight in the end. In case of a seasoned Hollywood cinematographer wryly played by Michael Wincott, he is surely amusing to watch as often reminiscent of Werner Herzog, and you will get some morbid laugh from how boldly and fearlessly he handles what may be the greatest challenge in his entire professional career.

All these and other things eventually culminate to the climactic sequence where lots of things happen on the screen, but the movie keeps us focused on what is being at stake for OJ and several other main characters. This sequence feels a bit too long, but the movie steadily maintains what has been carefully accumulated up to that point, and the result is definitely something worthwhile to watch on big screen.

Above all, the movie is supported well by two good performers at its center. As Daniel Kaluuya, who has been quite more prominent since his unforgettable breakthrough turn in Peele’s Oscar-winning debut feature film “Get Out” (2017), stoically holds the ground as required, Keke Palmer, whom I still fondly remember for her plucky performance in “Akeelah and the Bee” (2006), ably complements Kaluuya with her spirited performance, and it is often entertaining to watch how their very different characters dynamically interact with each other along the story. In case of several other main cast members including Brandon Perea and Keith David, Perea provides some extra humor to the story as holding his own place between Kaluuya and Palmer, and Keith David leaves a lasting impression on us despite his brief appearance in the film.

In conclusion, “Nope” is another commendable work from Peele after “Get Out” and “Us”. Although it does not reach to the devious narrative precision of “Get Out” or the endlessly thought-provoking aspects of “Us”, it is still quite enjoyable in terms of mood, storytelling, and performance, and I am already willing to watch it again for savoring its highlights more. In short, this is another fun summer film of this year after “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022), and I sincerely urge you to check it out as soon as possible.

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