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Nope

Entry updated 31 August 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (2022). Universal Pictures presents a Monkey's Paw production. Written and directed by Jordan Peele. Cast includes Keith David, Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott and Steven Yeun. 130 minutes. Colour.

At his ranch outside Los Angeles, an African-American horse trainer (David) is killed by a bizarre rain of coins, keys and other household objects. Six months later his children OJ (Kaluuya) and Emerald (Palmer) are struggling to keep the ranch afloat, providing horses for Hollywood productions as well as a local cowboy theme park run by ex-sitcom star Jupe (Yeun).

After hearing strange noises from the night sky, OJ witnesses a saucer-shaped UFO abducting horses from the ranch. Tests reveal that the UFO is hiding in plain sight within a small stationary cloud, and the siblings concoct a plan to win fame and fortune by filming an abduction.

Jupe is revealed to have been secretly delivering horses to the UFO in an attempt to control it and rekindle his own fame, but his grand reveal event goes wrong when the UFO sucks up Jupe and the entire audience of his theme park. Witnessing the aftermath of this event, OJ identifies the UFO as not a Spaceship but a single organic predator of unknown origin. The "abductions" are the Monster feeding on its victims; the rains of coins and keys occur as it disgorges their inedible possessions. Still determined to get photographic proof, OJ and his sister concoct a plan to lure the creature into the open and record it through the magic of traditional cinematography.

An action blockbuster masquerading as a horror film, or perhaps the other way around, Nope owes much of its DNA to Steven Spielberg's classic Monster Movie Jaws (1975). As Spielberg's shark turned the placid ocean into a site of potential terror, so Peele's Nope finds unease in the image of scudding clouds on a sunny day. With a handful of graphic images and sound design that emphasizes screams echoing from an empty sky, Peele takes a scenario which could have been played as a family-friendly adventure film and makes of it something stranger.

Nope initially follows the tropes of Alien invasion movies such as Signs (2002), but by the time its predator is unveiled, it is not clear whether it is Extraterrestrial at all. References to the Bible suggest that the creature may have been with us all along, interpreted by earlier cultures as an angel. In production notes, the film-makers were also explicit that their creature's billowing final form was part inspired by the "Angels" that prey on humanity in the Japanese Anime Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) (see Shinseiki Evangelion). In its earliest appearances, however, the creature's cylindrical shape brings to mind the cowboy hats of classic Westerns; and with their horseback antics and cowboy costumes, its would-be wranglers OJ and Jupe are performing in a genre from which Black and Asian Americans have traditionally been excluded.

Jordan Peele's breakthrough horror hit Get Out (2017) and its followup Doppelganger nightmare Us (2019) were as much metaphors as movies, sometimes sacrificing logic for lyricism. With a tighter internal logic and larger scale, Nope is an effective creature feature that also comments on Hollywood's exploitation of animals and minorities in its never-ending quest for spectacle. A confident director at the height of his success, Peele is having his cake and eating it too. [JN]

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