NOPE (2022)

Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya in a still
  • Release Date: 19/08/2022
  • Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun
  • Director: Jordan Peele

Nope!…I am not convinced…but I still like you a lot

— Ambar Chatterjee

Jordan Peele has become synonymous with making out-of-the-box horror/thriller fare that is ambiguous to certain extents and is open to a wide range of interpretations. People believed that Get Out would just be one of those films that would show the white folks in poor light and underline the gruesome abuses that they have committed on the blacks. In the end, that film turned out to be one of the rare examples where the white folks are seen acknowledging the superiority of the blacks in comparison to their own biological structure and traits. This fact was the basis of the entire plot of the film. This came as a major shock for many and made the film extremely interesting and intriguing. In his second film, Us, he dealt with the idea of cloning, social experiments, unbridled scientific experiments, betrayal, and a whole lot of other things. Us was a bittersweet affair for me even though a lot of it captivated my senses. 

Nope is Peele’s third film and it is about a possible alien invasion. You probably knew that much from the trailers. Being a film about an alien invasion is only a small part of it. As has been the case with all Jordan Peele films, Nope is a film about a whole lot of other things. The story revolves around siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) who are horse wranglers. The siblings have fallen into a financial ditch after the death of their father who was killed by a coin that was lodged in his head like a bullet from above the sky. OJ was always doubtful of the manner of his father’s death but had to put it all back and concentrate on finding a livelihood instead. He has been selling his horses to Ricky (Steven Yeun), a man who owns a theme park and is possibly using the horses as attractions in his park. OJ wants to lay a path for earning the horses back. Things take an interesting turn when the siblings notice bizarre occurrences on their ranch and decide to film them. Their idea is to sell the footage for enough cash that would then solve all their financial problems. What happens next is what the film is all about. 

Nope is the kind of film that will drive a wedge between the audiences. There will be those who will absolutely love it and call it a modern masterpiece. Then there will be those who will be frustrated by its lack of resolutions to numerous issues and plot points that it sets up but never resolves and would hate it for it. I, for once, have a very fractured view of the film. There was a lot that I loved about the film and then there was an equal lot that I didn’t like. It will only be fair for me to point out all that I liked and disliked about the film and let my readers take a conscious call on whether all that I liked outweighed all that I didn’t like and, in the process, made the film a worthy watch for them or vice versa.

A still from the film

Writing and Dialogues:

The writing and dialogues of the film are exceptional. The film moves from one set piece to another and the way these set pieces are envisioned, written and how the characters are made to interact with one another, and the situations will keep the audiences engrossed. The dialogues between the characters are so engrossing, natural, witty, and full of so much intrigue that it is bound to make you watch and listen to the proceedings attentively. If you miss the dialogues, chances are you will miss important portions of the plot and that will further alienate you from the film. Also, if you want to understand the emotional and psychological centers of the characters, the only option that you have is to listen to the dialogues and decipher the characters using the things that they tell each other. It does reveal a lot about the characters and helps you to understand certain choices that they are shown making. I loved the fact that Peele shows events that have ramifications throughout the film, and he shows them in the most intriguing manner possible even though he doesn’t reveal a lot in these scenes. 

The Performances: –

The performances from the ensemble cast were brilliant. There wasn’t a single actor who didn’t do his/her best. Daniel Kaluuya is a Jordan Peele regular, and I knew what to expect from his rendition of OJ. Interestingly, he was able to surprise me with his performance. He plays a man who is conflicted by a lot of things that are happening around him of late and is still confident of finding a way between the challenges and making it big for himself. He is also surprisingly courageous and there are moments when his inherent goodness is revealed by an act of astounding bravery or selflessness. All these aspects of the characters are rendered with a mix of oddball charm and resolute confidence by Kaluuya that makes OJ an instantly likable and interesting protagonist.

Keke Palmer as OJ’s sister Emerald is a live wire. She talks fast. She reacts fast. She decides fast. She embodies and portrays everything that is both right and wrong with a certain section of women. While there will be those who will love to hate her overbearing presence on OJ and the entire plot, one cannot ignore the fact that there are people like her in this world, and Palmer’s rendition of one such character is fantastically relatable and real to characters that have the same traits. Her character does push the narrative forward and that is one of the reasons that make her character important and interesting in the scheme of things.   

Steven Yeun’s Ricky is someone who is dealing with a traumatic experience from his childhood that has brought him to believe that he might have a certain amount of control or reach with a certain being that might be more than anything anyone else might have on the being. This makes him do things that he regrets in the end. What I loved about Yeun’s rendition was that I was able to draw a straight between his younger self and his present self. He was not only able to grasp the mental state of the character but was also successful in keeping parity between his younger and older self. This resulted in an organic transition of the character through the years and compounded the impact of the performance.    

Steven Yeun in a still from the film

Cinematography: –

The cinematography of the film was one of its highlights. It is visual storytelling at its best where the visuals and the frames share information that is not shared in spoken words. The visuals complement the mood and the setting and add to the horror or surprise of what the characters are experiencing. There are numerous sequences that are rendered even more potent because of how they are captured and edited. As my friend with whom I was watching the film rightly pointed out, there were a lot of Hitchcockian angles, edits and stylistic representations used that made the film even more alluring. The wide expansive shots that form a major portion of the final 30 minutes of the film will leave you spell-bounded and asking for more.

Sound Design: – 

The sound design of the film is one of its biggest strengths. It had to be so since the representation of the alien entity had to be conveyed using sounds and minimal visual representation for a large portion of the film. This was to keep the intrigue and surprise alive. The sound design in this regard is consistently brilliant. Apart from one small bit in the sound that I believe was recycled from Arrival, most of the other sounds were unique, impactful, and balanced perfectly to incite horror, surprise, and interest in what was unfolding. Even normal sounds like the grunting of a horse are used imaginatively to extract different reactions from the audiences at different junctures.

Having said all that, I still had a few issues with the film that marred my experience of the film

The design of the alien: –   

I hated the design of the alien. By the time it is revealed, I already had a certain expectation from it and what it ended up being was just so farfetched and underwhelming that I couldn’t help but be disappointed by it. The design also raised major questions about things that the alien was shown doing in the beginning and put a question mark on whether or not the design justified these things. If that was not enough, the color and the overall presence of it drained any sense of fear or thrill from it resulting in an adversary that looked more like a glorified robe or blanket than a fearsome creature from a different planet.

Unanswered questions: – 

While there is a certain charm in leaving things ambiguous and making films that are open to different interpretations, it is never wise to leave so many questions unanswered that leave the audiences dissatisfied and make them feel cheated. This was exactly the case with Nope. While Peele can justify not explaining the genesis and existence of the alien as the story unfolds from the perspective of OJ and Emerald, he can never justify leaving a truckload of questions that are directly related to the different characters and situations in the film. It must be noted that these situations and characters also impact the narrative in their own ways and have a constant overbearing on the proceedings.

Keke Palmer in a still from the film

Might be difficult for non-Americans to get thoroughly involved: – 

The dialogues and the different story elements of the film are wrapped in American culture and way of life. Peele takes his narrative forward taking a lot of things for granted. He is right in doing so as these things might be common knowledge for the Americans. Also, there are numerous emotional cues and subtle nuances in the drama and storytelling that will make sense only to people who are aware of that cultural or regional aspect of the story element and might not have the same impact on someone like me who is not on the same page with these elements. It will not be wrong to say that the film will appeal a whole lot more to people who are aware of the genesis of its many themes and characters and their perception of life. This also includes how these characters interact with one another. 

Final Words: –

Nope was a bittersweet experience for me for the reasons discussed already. Peele might have tried to keep its appeal more global but then that was never his intent. It will appeal to all those who don’t mind unanswered questions in their films and are willing to dig deeper into American culture and way of life in search of answers and understanding of dramatic and cinematic themes used in the film. For the others, it will be an enjoyable watch as long as the film doesn’t reveal all its cards and its poorly designed alien. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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