Friday, July 22, 2022

Review: Yep! Keke Palmer Steals Weird and Scary "NOPE"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 44 of 2022 (No. 1856) by Leroy Douresseaux

Nope (2022)
Running time: 135 minutes (2 hours, 15 minutes)
MPAA – R for language throughout and some violence/bloody images
PRODUCERS:  Jordan Peele and Ian Cooper
EDITOR:  Nicholas Monsour
COMPOSER: Michael Abels


Starring:  Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun, Wrenn Schmidt, Donna Mills, Eddie Jemison, and Keith David and Jacob Kim

Nope is a 2022 science fiction horror film and mystery-thriller written and directed by Jordan Peele.  The film focuses on two siblings who witness something uncanny and terrifying on and around their family's ranch.

Nope introduces Otis “OJ” Haywood, Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) and his younger sister, Emerald “Em” Haywood (Keke Palmer), who own and operate “Haywood Hollywood Horses,” on their family's ranch where they train horses to perform on film and television.  Things have been difficult since their father, Otis Haywood (Keith David), died several months earlier in a mysterious accident in which random objects fell from the sky.

Since then, uncanny occurrences – strange sounds and odd sightings – have been happening in and around their isolated town with increasing frequency.  When OJ and Em begin to suspect they have an idea of what the abnormal events happening on their ranch are, they decide to capture video evidence of an unidentified flying object.  A local tech store employee, Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), injects himself into the siblings' situation.

However, the involvement of Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), the owner of a local amusement park, “Jupiter's Claim,” takes the mystery to a new level.  Now, OJ, Em, and Angel may come close to filming their own demise.

I am a big fan of the first two films Jordan Peele wrote and directed, the Oscar-winning Get Out (2016) and Us (2019).  I am also a fan of the 2021 sequel/reboot, Candyman, which Peele co-wrote and co-produced.  Nope isn't quite as good as his early directorial efforts, but it is not like them, nor is it like any film I have ever seen.

Nope is scary and thrilling, but also offbeat and really weird.  I want to emphasize weird, especially because the mystery the Haywoods are chasing is and isn't what they (or we) think it is.  I found myself trying to unravel the weirdness and the mystery as much as I found myself being scared.  Jordan Peele is so imaginative and inventive that he fills Nope with enough ideas and subplots for four movies.  That is something of a problem, as Nope often feels unfocused.  But I find it brilliant anyway.

Attentive viewers will notice that Nope has similarities to a number of films.  I noticed elements of two Steven Spielberg classics, Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Kind (1977).  There is a touch of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs (2002).  Thematically, Nope brushes against Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993), and Peele mentioned the influence of The Wizard of Oz (1939) on him while writing Nope's screenplay, which I don't see.  The last act does recall Alien 3 (1992) for me.

Nope does feature the kind of great characters and superb character writing that defined Peele's earlier efforts.  All the characters, especially OJ and Emerald, feel like characters that have a long history before this film and will have a life beyond the confines of Nope's narrative and run time.  Daniel Kaluuya does intense and laid back with equal aplomb; in this quasi-Western film, he makes OJ Haywood a true cowboy hero.  However, I think the actress and character that get the most mileage out of this film are Keke Palmer and Emerald Haywood.  This is the first time that I have seen Palmer play a real adult woman who has lived a life that is complex in its tribulations, but is also filled with good times, even some wild times.  Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, and child actor, Jacob Kim, are quite good in their roles, but Nope is the Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer show.

Nope has a lot of lovely cinematography, especially involving the open sky and clouds.  The sound design is also absolutely good and frequently gave me a feeling of unease.  I think that in some ways Nope is trying to make us uncomfortable, and it proves that Jordan Peele is the master of making films that get at the fault lines of America.

However, in his bid to mystify us and to get at us, Peele might have gone a bit too far this time.  Nope is a brilliant work that is as weird and obtuse as it is thrilling.  With Nope, Jordan Peele is like Denis Villeneuve (Dune: Part One); he is too good for the own good of his film.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Friday, July 22, 2022

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