By Sam Acosta
This review contains spoilers for “Nope”
Jordan Peele strikes again with his third film, “Nope,” which brings a new take on the alien genre. While Peele’s brilliance is undoubted and shines frequently throughout the film, this is not as strong as his past two blockbusters. There were just a few times when an odd or unresolved plot choice pulled me out of the action and made me question whether I was missing something or not. Yet, while “Nope” may not be Peele’s best work, it still stands as one of the best psychological thrillers of the decade, showing just how hard it is for him to miss the target.
“Nope” follows the story of two siblings, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood, who are put in charge of running their father’s California horse ranch after his mysterious death. As OJ struggles to keep the ranch together and Emerald separates herself more and more from the business, a local amusement park called Jupiter’s Claim, run by former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) arises as a saving grace, as he continuously buys horses from the ranch. Yet, something strange is waiting in the skies above Jupiter’s Claim, as horses begin to disappear. After witnessing what seems to be a UFO, Emerald convinces OJ that the key to their financial struggles is to get the first clear shot of an extraterrestrial ship. But the job isn’t as easy as it seems.
First things first, I have to shout out this amazing cast. Daniel Kaluuya is one of the best up-and-coming actors of the decade and this performance cements that. He brings such a sense of realism, even to a movie about aliens, that it grips you every time he is on screen. Keke Palmer does a marvelous job of foiling her co-star, which creates a super believable and engaging sibling dynamic. Her desire for fame and wealth, like most people in Hollywood, is not riddled with cliché, but feels personal to her story. This dynamic is critical to the movie’s success and their performances and the script make it so.
I also have to take some time to talk about how well Steven Yeun did in this film. Ricky’s whole character arc is interesting, albeit sometimes confusing, but it would not have had nearly the amount of intrigue that it does without Yeun’s performance. His natural charisma and showmanship bring out a lot of the themes of the film. Also, a quick shoutout to Jacob Kim, who plays the younger version of Rickey, for an amazing film debut.
The plot of “Nope” is both brilliant and confusing. Its foundation is solid, with the themes of spectacle and our natural human attraction to it being the central focus. Peele’s commentary on how we feel the need to put everything on camera, no matter how horrific, really comes across here, and I appreciate that level of intentionality within the messaging.
Where “Nope” falls flat is within a couple of its character choices and pacing. Things sometimes happen a little too fast and it isn’t always warranted. For example, the documentary filmmaker who the siblings hire to help catch the UFO on camera suddenly decides to run to it and allow himself to be sucked up into it. The reason for this is entirely unclear. I couldn’t figure out whether it was a random act of suicide or whether he was trying to film inside of it. The event is so abrupt that there is very little way of knowing either way and then, after it’s over, it’s basically never mentioned again, leaving no closure to the situation.
This lack of closure is a feeling that “Nope” gives you a lot. Sometimes you can accept it or even feel satisfied by it, while at other times it can be frustrating. Honestly, sometimes you won’t be able to make up your mind about it. This was the case for me in terms of the Gordy subplot.
Part of the character arc of Ricky Park is that when he was younger, he starred in a show called “Gordy’s Home,” a sitcom about a family who has a pet Chimpanzee named Gordy that gave the same aesthetic as “Full House.” While filming one day, however, Gordy gets triggered by a balloon popping and suddenly attacks and kills many of the cast. Ricky attempts to hide but is found, yet Gordy seems to have a moment of connection with him rather than being aggressive. We never really know, however, whether this connection was genuine because Gordy is quickly shot by local security.
I honestly couldn’t tell how this connected to the rest of the film. It could be an argument for why Ricky thinks he has such a special connection with the UFO, since he survived his encounter with Gordy and seemed to connect with him, but that doesn’t seem to account for the floating shoe that the camera focuses on time and time again. Were the aliens somehow involved in that situation? Again, it is so vague and unclear, that I simply couldn’t figure it out. It created this love-hate relationship with the Gordy sequences, because I absolutely adored them on their own, but as a part of the film as a whole, it just felt confusing.
All critiques aside, “Nope” is still an incredibly strong psychological thriller. I never got bored with it and was always looking forward to seeing what happened next. If you enjoy Jordan Peele’s work, then you should definitely add this to your watchlist.
I give “Nope” an 8/10
“Nope” is now showing in theaters.
Sam Acosta is a Senior Theatre Comprehensive Major and the Arts and Entertainment Editor for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr Pepper and writing plays.