Change Edition

Nope: Dare to be seriously creeped out
Film review

Nope: Dare to be seriously creeped out

by Tómas Atli Einarsson 3 min. 25.08.2022
Nope is about a genuinely scary encounter with something that should be too big, too frightening, too strange to really exist, says Tom Einarsson
Otis Haywood’s father is killed when random objects rain down on their ranch in California
Otis Haywood’s father is killed when random objects rain down on their ranch in California
Photo credit: Universal Pictures International

Like finding a parking spot in the city when the Schueberfouer is on, Nope is a rare event indeed. Seldom do horror films manage to both be loaded with coherent symbolism and frightening sequences so hair-raising that you will be afraid to look up at the sky for the foreseeable future. 

But Jordan Peele’s third directorial project does just that. Nope nails a balancing act which horror often seems to forget is crucial to creeping audiences out. 

Otis “OJ” Haywood’s (Daniel Kaluuya) father is killed when random objects rain down on their ranch in California, leaving him solely responsible for the business of raising and training horses for film productions. His sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) isn’t much help, being more focused on fame and glory. 

But the struggling Hollywood horse ranch is beset by strange occurrences: power outages, strange noises and sightings of what OJ comes to believe is a UFO. And besides: what was the deal with keys and coins and the like falling out of the sky the day their father died? 

In an effort to identify the Unidentified Flying Object, Em and OJ hatch a plan to film the unfilmable by setting up cameras and elaborate traps. Employing the help of a depressed electronics store worker named Angel (Brandon Perea) and a raspy-voiced cinematographer named Antlers (Michael Wincott), the crew faces grave dangers in trying to tame whatever it is that is stalking the Haywoods’ ranch. 

In the hands of a director like Jordan Peele, a premise like this might already make for a decent UFO movie. A rag-tag crew trying to document paranormal phenomena always leaves room for uncanny occurrences and big reveals. But as per Peele’s usual, there is a lot more to Nope than just flying saucers and weird weather. 

For one, there’s a big UFO-related twist that I can’t bring myself to spoil, although it makes for a crazy enough unfolding (literally) that it will send imaginations racing. But the core premise of trying to capitalise on UFO activity is flipped on its head in a way that makes Nope such a breath of fresh air that it wouldn’t be ludicrous to call Peele a Great of contemporary horror. 

Firstly (and here I have to spoil at least a little), the UFO disables all electronics when it approaches. Looking directly at it draws its attention to you. It effectively becomes an unfilmable Medusa, at once looming over every character in the film while simultaneously being impossible to scrutinise in detail. 

There are layers and layers of subtle symbolism - from the Haywoods’ father’s legacy looming over the ranch to the colour of OJ’s jumper in the final sequence - that has the last third of Nope revel in its own meaningful consistency. Nothing in the film is done for cheap sentimentality or shock factor, but rather serves to pepper the plot with added uncanniness so that its world becomes increasingly unnerving and often downright grotesque. 

Every strange incident takes on a wholly different meaning as the UFO’s mystery unfolds until the valley is plagued by disturbed characters, trauma and uncanny events that all complement each other to paint a distressing Californian landscape with a big flying saucer hanging over it. 

There’s something deeply Lovecraftian about a huge, yet impossible-to-look at thing hovering over your house. And it’s precisely this move which makes Nope a Hollywood film that criticises the distinctly Hollywood-ian impulse to make everything a show by flipping a genre on its head. 

After all, the most impressive thing about Nope is that it is a genuinely good horror movie about an Unidentified Flying Object. You would expect green beams of light abducting cows and little grey aliens probing sedated humans. But the rules of the encounter - and not to mention the ending - make for a deeply compelling and genuinely scary encounter with something that should be too big, too frightening, too strange to really exist. 

I’m wary of going on about Nope because I can also fully imagine some just not digging it. But having a soft spot for horror movies often leaves you disappointed when so many are boiled down to the point of being slideshows of spooky events with people doing a bit of talking in-between. But Nope effectively rekindles that wonder of whether there really is something out there.

The Luxembourg Times has a new mobile app, download here! Get the Luxembourg Times delivered to your inbox twice a day. Sign up for your free newsletters here.