A Hollywood horse wrangler (Daniel Kaluuya) and his showbiz sister (Keke Palmer) encounter a UFO above their ranch in Nope, or Nay if you’re a horse.
Turning his back on the slasher genre (seemingly during production of the Candyman remake), Jordan Peele swaps his signature horror hooks for a sci-fi/Western more interested in mares than nightmares. The story itself is a fairly straightforward Close Encounters scenario, with subplots involving a chimpanzee sitcom and The Scorpion King (really) that never come together. That open-endedness isn’t a problem in and of itself; Peele is at his best when leaving more to interpretation (Us) than drilling home a single idea (Get Out).
But what both those films had was robust characterisation, keeping us invested even at their most hopping mad. The characters in Nope are likeable enough though this is more due to residual affection for Kaluuya and Palmer than any strong family dynamics, personalities or motivations, which appear to shift from scene to scene. Along with Brandon Perea’s techy sidekick, they often seem to belong in entirely different movies; possibly a deliberate move by Peele albeit one whose object is largely unidentifiable.
There is however a certain boldness in his subversion of disaster movie clichés while paying homage to Jaws and Akira, and avoiding the lazy satire of Don’t Look Up (not that there was ever any risk). More Spielberg than Carpenter, he opts for spectacle over humour or terror and pulls off some stunning sequences via Hoyte van Hoytema’s sweeping cinematography and Michael Abels’ witty score. But over two hours the film runs afoal of fun and intrigue, and winds up patchier than phone signal in the desert.
Although it trots out plenty of ideas about fame, spectacle, greed, race and Hollywood, Nope fails to glue them into a coherent whole and forms a strangely insubstantial entry into the Peele stable. Pleasing as it is to watch the adventurous director resist being branded a one-trick pony, Us will remain his masterpiece until he makes a L’il Sebastian biopic called Knope.