Seems a little bit on the nose to say that “NOPE” is a vastly different story compared to what Jordan Peele has given us previously, both in execution, style and arguably, his usual modus operandi.
Of course, Peele’s ability to manipulate common spaces and make them terrifying is nothing short of noteworthy; his direction mixes the slow-burn nail-biting suspense of Jaws with an aptly expressive yet frustrating instinctive urge to play on our basic inquisitive nature similar to Signs. While chalk-filled to the brim with homages to other inspirations, Jordan treads carefully with the concept with the utmost of confidence and interjects his own voice in a clever blending of respect, mockery and commodification.
Bouncing between wonderfully fluid motion or uniform steadiness, nothing but near pristine cinematography is presented from foreground and background alike, backed up by sharp editing and undeniable trepidation in its use of atmosphere, transforming even the most simplistic of set locations into something that feels haunted, uncomfortable and unsettling. Said desolate settings of the hills and valleys makes nimble uses of the limited production design, there’s very unique sound mixing with a channeling score to boot, it’s a carefully calculated slow burn with valleys of intrigue, it has one of the most disturbing uses of imagery I’ve seen this year WITHOUT delving into shock value and I ADORE the way this nuanced if not uneven cast of characters took their time evolving. Daniel Kaluuya’s desolated quiet and reserved show of restrain emits strongly at every waking moment while Keke’s acting abilities are more uneven. Some shots, she can sell excitement, fear and confidence with ease; other times, it’s obvious another take was needed.
There’s something so addicting and curious about capturing that inevitable rush of exciting unease (something Peele has shown immaculate skill for); it’s just odd that such great atmosphere is supplied to such an arbitrary story both purposely vague and riveting. I think what Peele is trying to do here is critique both our obsession and catharsis with entertainment, celebrity and animal cruelty; how we tend to shamelessly and blindly chase and profit off of trauma without much regards to the consequences, how hubris in showbiz will eat you alive if you’re too reckless about the tolls taken to witness or capture spectacles of any kind; the alien visitors are merely a component of these themes and arcs all the characters have to go on.
The story might come off as unfocused due to the scattered series of events that follow but one; I was never bored at any point. And two; the execution of said events worked off me faster after the twist halfway through: you can’t completely tame a wild animal.
It’s divisive in terms of the logical connectives and even the execution of the messaging here can’t exactly bypass a waddling shift in pacing and a third act boggled down by, once again, more meandering expositions. Not only that but I wouldn’t really call this a comedy at all. You could also argue that some scenes could’ve been trimmed out to make the story flow better but considering the original cut of this film was over three hours long, I’d say they did the best with what they could salvage.
I know some people are gonna call me biased or whatever for saying this but between his other works, this might personally be my favorite out of the three. Between allegories of filmmaking, respecting the crew and trying to play God with situations beyond your control, Peele captures his own “Oprah” shot in the most cryptic but Spielberg-esque manner possible.