“Nope”: Peele hits directorial stride with third picture

Jordan Peele returns to the director’s chair with “Nope,” a complex movie with a lot to like. The movie siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) grieve losing their father in a mysterious accident. One day on their California ranch, metal objects fall from the sky and kill their father. While struggling to maintain the family business, training horses for movie sets, the siblings witness a strange shape in the sky. The two begin a mission to photograph the shape and profit from the discovery.

Peele has had a near-seamless transition from his sketch comedy days to more “serious” filmmaking. He kicked off his directorial career with 2017’s “Get Out,” which was met with widespread praise. The combination of a horror movie with striking social commentary earned Peele an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. This was followed by 2019’s “Us” which is not as beloved as “Get Out.” “Us” was more of a straight forward horror movie lacking the sharp allegory that made “Get Out” such a hit with critics and casual moviegoers alike. While it is not a bad movie, Peele set the bar pretty high for himself with “Get Out.” Now for the million dollar question, where does “Nope” rank in the filmography of Peele?

The movie uses a simple alien chasing as a device to explore more complex themes such as exploitation in the film industry and the treatment of animals. “Nope” features excellent performances from Kaluuya and Palmer. The two perfectly capture the sibling dynamic while still being very distinct characters. The cinematography is the best of any Peele film thus far. Sweeping vistas, gorgeous plains, and skies that look like impressionist paintings make “Nope” a visually stunning movie.

Despite being Peele’s densest film to date, the Oscar winner manages to connect seemingly abstract, unrelated storylines into an impressive movie with a lot to say. The plot of “Nope” has a few scenes that did not fully click with me until the credits had finished rolling, which is one of my favorite feelings a movie can evoke. I love seeing a weird movie with a massive budget that does not dumb everything down and spoonfeed its message. This is a movie that trusts its audience enough to be bizarre and strange in a very enjoyable kind of way.

Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya in Nope (2022). (IMDB)

Kaluuya delivers one of the most realistic performances I have seen in a horror movie. It is refreshing to watch a character with some common sense and self preservation who isn’t afraid to say, “nope,” when a dangerous situation arises. Palmer brings some levity to a tense and dark story. Her bubbly performance is a ray of sunshine that found a way to make the whole theater laugh and smile. Kaluuya and Palmer are joys to watch in “Nope” and it really reminds us how talented they are as actors.

“Nope” is a visually stunning movie. The movie was filmed on IMAX cameras, which gives the cinematographers the tools they need for truly impressive and sweeping visuals. Even though I did not have the pleasure of seeing it at an IMAX theatre, it still was amazing to look at. The California landscape is gorgeous and many of the shots feel as if you are watching a tourism ad for the state. Despite living in Chicago and my love for our urban metropolis, I have a soft spot for sprawling prairies and endless fields. 

Peele is known for his usage of allegory to tackle issues with America and our culture. Early in “Nope,” OJ is on set for a commercial shoot with one of his horses. The horse seems to be nervous and when it catches a glimpse of itself in a mirror, it freaks out and kicks a potted plant. Thankfully nobody is hurt, but it causes OJ to lose out on the job. This scene sets up major themes for the movie, being the treatment of animals on camera and the exploitative nature of the film industry. As the movie progresses, this scene becomes more and more relevant and my mind keeps coming back to that poor scared horse.

“Nope” has a lot of things: A gripping sci-fi story, excellent performances, plenty of room to interpret and some of my favorite visuals. “Nope” is a movie with something for just about everyone. I left the theatre satisfied and am excited to see what Jordan Peele brings to us movie nerds next.

This is a movie that I will appreciate more on a rewatch so I can fully take in the scope of the interwoven stories. I admire the open-ended nature of the messaging, and I wonder if upon another screening I would walk out of the theatre with a different outlook on what Peele was trying to say. While I was not completely blown away by “Nope,” it proved to be more memorable and thought provoking compared to the majority of other films I have seen in 2022.