Aa key moment in this consciously deconstructive slice of spectacular cinema from Jordan Peele, writer-director of get out and Wea character theorizes that the monster (whatever it is) is the most dangerous when it is look at. It’s an idea as old as the Greek myth of Medusa (one look will turn you to stone) and resurfaced in 2018 in Susanne Bier’s post-apocalyptic chiller. bird box (one look will kill you). It’s even brazenly echoed in Adam McKay’s recent report Don’t look upin which Trumpian politicians insist that comet destruction can be avoided by simply refusing to face death in the face.
In Nope, horse trainer/trainer Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr (a quietly intense Daniel Kaluuya) tries to dodge the deadly attentions of whatever celestial phenomenon terrorizes his California ranch by carefully avoiding eye contact. OJ’s family, which includes ill-fated father Otis Sr (Keith David) and fame-seeking sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), proudly market themselves as direct descendants of the unnamed jockey featured in Eadweard Muybridge’s images of of a rider and a horse at the end of the 19th century – a forerunner of modern cinema (“from the moment when the images could move, we had skin in the game”). Today, the Haywood Ranch provides horses for film and television productions (“the only black-owned horse trainers in Hollywood”), although the struggling OJ may have to sell his stock to former child star Ricky “Juise” Park (Steven Yeun), who runs a nearby theme park. . But then mysterious signs in the sky offer either an unexpected opportunity or a “bad miracle”…
While there are plenty of spoilers all over what OJ is up against, it’s best to see Nope unprepared and spending a fair amount of time wondering “WTF is happening?!” Suffice it to say, Peele draws on a wide range of influences, from the amazed human muddle of Dating of the Third Kind with the strange and angelic forms of the Japanese television series Neon Genesis Evangelionand (accidentally?) the all-too-happy silliness of M Night Shyamalan The event. It also picks up movie threads from Antonioni’s 60s swing parable Explode, Sidney Poitier’s 70s Western Buck and the preacher (a poster of which hangs on the ranch wall), Katsuhiro Otomo’s 80s manga Akira (which Peele was tapped to remake) and even Ron Underwood’s cult ’90s monster movie Tremors. More importantly, it rips off (or “pays homage”) the iconic chase sequences of Jawswith inflatable air dancers replacing those floating yellow barrels that made Spielberg’s shark all the more terrifying when not seen.
From this rich stew, Peele cooks up an elliptical (and sometimes frustratingly paced) thread about our habit of gazing in amazement at danger, disaster and trauma. This is hardly news to moviegoers who have spent a century gawking at the fiery wrath of early biblical epics (Nope opens with an Old Testament threat to “make a show out of you”) and the modern chaos of disasters such as Poseidon’s Adventure and The infernal tower. More recently we had the end of the world loops from Interstellar, with whom this film shares cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, a man who knows how to capture the cataclysmic on screen. Indeed, the character that most borders on caricature is an eccentric Ahab/Quint (Michael Wincott)-type cinematographer who uses not a harpoon but a hand-cranked camera to “capture” this beast of prize after surveillance camera technician Angel (the star rising Brandon Perea) discovers that his career eats electricity for breakfast.
There is a beautiful irony in conjuring up an Imax-friendly essay on the dangers of gazing. And beyond the surreal sci-fi spectacles and beautifully rendered nighttime vistas, NopeThe warnings of enraging an adversary – whether a startled chimpanzee or a drop of amorphous sky – by looking them in the eye strikes a down-to-earth chord in a racially divided (maybe OJ’s opponent is a metaphor for white supremacy?). Yet Peele’s ability to balance these intriguing ideas with the brutally kinetic demands of blockbuster cinema is more uncertain, making it a better film to debate than watch. Remember – Jaws may not have been “about” a shark, but it still moved like one. As with the brilliantly horrifying sitcom bloodbath that serves as Nopetoo often the film seems to be heading somewhere extraordinary, only to disappear into an ambitious conceptual hole that, while sometimes surprising, is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.