Nope: An Underwhelming Story with Great Moments

Most of Peele’s latest feels as experimental and creative as it is simple and fun.

If there’s one thing to know before heading into theaters this weekend to see Jordan Peele’s NOPE, it’s that his latest feature is completely different than his directorial debut Get Out and second film Us. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may help one to manage expectations when it comes to the watching experience. Specifically, this isn’t a film that requires deep analysis or multiple viewings to peel back layers of the story that don’t exist. But I highly recommend going in fully alert and ready to watch this multiple times anyway.

The story follows brother-sister duo OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood as caretakers of their late father’s California horse ranch. When several encounters lead them to speculate that an extraterrestrial presence often circulates their home, the two set out to capture the events on video. Enrolling the help of tech expert Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and esteemed film director Michael Wincott (Antlers Holst), the team pulls out all the stops to uncover the horrifying truth. They just have to overcome the chilling dangers that result with their discovery.

NOPE is the kind of movie that viewers may expect a lot out of–especially after Peele’s last two projects and after Universal Pictures distributed the first exhilarating trailer for the feature. But this time around, Peele opts for simplicity. The film isn’t complicated to understand, and quite frankly, the three-time horror director lays out all the details of what’s plaguing the isolated gulch of inland California. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he ties up all lose ends by the film’s end; but thankfully, these things never compromise the creativity within the story. It just so happens to be an average one, at best.

Nope is average at best.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The structure of the story is partly to blame for that. As viewers learn more about the ongoing mystery plaguing the town, more side characters enter the picture for comedic effect and intrigue. These should’ve been highlights and best moments, but they end up becoming occurrences that may have viewers asking “OK, now what?” Steven Yeun’s character Ricky is a prime example of this. Yeun does what he can to bring charm to his character, but there’s no depth or added benefit of having him in the story in the way it was presented. His story could’ve been a movie on its own, but there’s no connectivity to the main plot and the mystery set up within his backstory.

Within this mediocre story, however, lies some really great moments that are worth multiple views. For one, audiences can thank the chemistry of Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya for that. The pair are opposites in personality within their respective roles, but watching their characters interact in various elements and scenarios is worth watching. There’s a moment in Peele’s feature during which I could not relieve my face of the goofy smile that had been planted on it. Because of one simple phrase and the action that followed, led by Palmer’s Em, it was simply a delight.

Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood in NOPE
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Speaking of Miss Palmer, this woman knows the meaning of scene-stealing. To be honest, this movie is hers and no one else’s. That’s not to say that the other actors did not perform well. But in a film with Kaluuya, Yeun, and Wincott, this was Keke Palmer’s show, and the rest of the key players kind of just… existed in it.

Miss Palmer knows the meaning of scene-stealing.

Nope is also at its best when it relies on the technical achievements from the film crew. For example, the sound editing and mixing are both phenomenal. At any moment’s notice, even whispers from the wind start to sound a little foreign and horrifying. And up-close encounters with the film’s star “presence” get loud and intricately detailed with tremulous and pulsating echoes that are as frightening as they sound. These elements add to the intrigue and thrilling atmosphere set up by Peele and co., and they only continue to get bigger and better throughout the film.

It you’re looking for Peele’s latest to have some hidden messages behind what’s presented, you may walk away disappointed. Sometimes simplicity is for the best. It works really well in Nope, but it’s also restricted by the underwhelming story developed behind its inherent creativity. Blending the best elements of all genres including sci-fi, horror, thriller, and comedy, Peele has created another genre-bending epic. I can’t confidently say that everything works, but most of Peele’s latest feels as experimental and creative as it is simple and fun.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Watch the trailer for Jordan Peele’s Nope below:

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