Nope, Jordan Peele’s third directorial project, is part of a dying breed of theatrical films: originals. As much as Top Gun: Maverick is a jet–setting thrill ride or Minions: The Rise of Gru is meaningless fun, both films (and countless others) are franchises led by already–established characters.
With Nope, Get Out, and Us, the lure of Peele’s films is his original, mind–blowing storytelling. Peele, as the director, is the brand.
In simple terms, Nope is Peele’s take on the UFO story, a sci–fi Western–thriller that strongly takes inspiration from Jaws. Nope uses the sky as its “ocean” as the UFO hides in the clouds; however, unlike a shark that’s limited to water, the sky is boundless, leaving the alien free to terrorize anyone anywhere.
Nope also differentiates itself from previous sci–fi films with its fresh interpretation of how extraterrestrial life appears and is judged. Much of Nope isn’t about the threat of the unknown, but the spectacle and fascination with it. The movie’s focus on spectacle goes beyond the flying saucer up in the clouds; the film shines light on the business lurking behind the facade of entertainment: Hollywood.
The idea of spectacle—being captivated by something—is what connects the film’s extraterrestrial and human lives. The movie takes place at the fictional Haywood Ranch, which trains horses for film and television. The ranch is operated by the quiet–yet–commanding OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his charismatic sister, Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer), whose great–great–great–grandfather is the unnamed jockey in the first motion picture ever: Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 The Horse in Motion. Nope’s storyline resembles Muybridge’s film as the Haywood siblings, along with tech employee Angel (Brandon Perea) and cinematographer Antlers (Michael Wincott) join forces to record the UFO, which, like Muybridge’s horse, is difficult to pin down. The team is trying to get the impossible shot—“the Oprah shot”—and puts their lives in danger for their five seconds of fame.
The darkness behind entertainment is also shown at Jupiter’s Claim, an amusement park created by Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), who starred in a popular sitcom until a chimpanzee actor viciously attacked his co–stars. While slightly detached from the events at Haywood Ranch, Jupe’s backstory and theatrics in the present day expose the cycle of animal exploitation in Hollywood, all for a few fleeting moments of spectacle.
Even with Nope’s subversive themes, it’s Peele’s easiest film to follow plot–wise. The tone is dramatic but is also extremely funny, beginning with its genius, meta title that’s spoken throughout the film and is equally as hilarious every time. Nope is Peele’s first true blockbuster, and his ability to combine both high–concept and cinematic storytelling proves he’s one of Hollywood’s last standing mainstream auteur directors.
Too many films today rely on superhero cameos or post–credit scenes vital to another generic film to entice audiences. But audiences don’t need to be wooed that way for a Peele film—they can come in confident that they’ll witness a brilliant story from a singular creative talent.