Is Jordan Peele the new master of horror? The man himself may respectfully disagree with such a label, but its no exaggeration that Peele has proven to be one of the most innovative filmmakers currently toiling away within the genre. His previous forays into the realms of 21st century horror resulted in Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), both of which remain almost indefinable in their brilliance – multilayered, meaningful and entertaining horror films that succeed in both terrifying and tantalising. And now we have Nope, Peele’s latest venture, a film as equally multilayered, meaningful and entertaining as those previous efforts, and one which adds further fuel to the flames in regards to Peele’s status as a horror film luminary.
On paper, Nope appears to embrace science fiction more than it does pure horror (though it’s not without plenty of terror and paranoia to keep the heart rate racing). Centring on siblings Em (Keke Palmer) and OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya)’s attempts to get photographic proof of a UFO that is seemingly hiding in a cloud above their Hollywood ranch, the film follows the duo’s increasingly outlandish efforts, which soon begin to attract the attention of retired child actor-turned-theme park owner Ricky (Steven Yeun). Like with all of Peele’s previous films, there’s much, much more going on beneath the surface.
The similarities don’t end there. As with Get Out and Us, Nope blends various genres together in service of tension. Loud and proud comedic wit rubs shoulders with moments of visually mind bending terror, whilst the story ducks and weaves through contemplative scenes of deep introspection and brutal sci-fi satire at many a key moment. The screenplay is incredibly inventive, especially in regards to the alien threat, which feels unlike anything ever seen on the big screen in terms of the concept. Ultimately, the result is a very unique and clever take on tried-and-tested UFO tropes, which is turn complements the horror aspect, which is upped considerably throughout the film with just a few simple yet unnerving visuals.
Throughout all this, Peele proceeds to question our addiction to spectacle and explore the dangers of interfering in nature for our own selfish pursuit of gratification. Peele’s approach in relating this message is incredibly effective, particularly in the film’s opening moments and a later corresponding flashback. These scenes are particularly unsettling as a result of their minimalism and restraint, yet pay off massively later on in terms of character motivation, simultaneously driving home the satirical point of the whole endeavour through nightmarish imagery in a recognisably safe setting. Like all the best satire, Nope rewards upon rewatch and the themes within become only more prevalent with each and every viewing.
Themes and meanings aside, Nope is also a perfectly good horror film on a technical level. Johnnie Burn‘s sensational sound design is inventive and immensely atmospheric, giving life to the unknown and creating a soundscape that ups the tension and horror to a huge degree. The visual effects and production design are a match made in heaven when it comes to the creation of a wholly unique and visually arresting UFO that stalks the skies, whilst the score from composer Michael Abels is beautifully understated and disquieting throughout. Performances too are equally splendid, particular those of Keke Palmer as Em and Brandon Perea as the Haywood’s tech-savvy assistant Angel, whilst Daniel Kaluuya strikes a wholly captivating presence with his character through his superbly natural, minimalist performance.
Jordan Peele may deny that he’s the new master of horror until the horses come home, but there’s no denying that his inventive imagination continues to surpass almost all other filmmakers currently working within the horror genre. Simply put, Nope is a disturbing and inventive sci-fi thriller that’s big on visual beauty and unsettling social commentary, peppered with dark biting humour and marvellous thrills throughout. Regardless of the film’s central message, this is one spectacle that must be seen!
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