Since his father (Keith David) died in a freak accident, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) has been trying to keep their horse farm – with horses trained for movie making – afloat more or less on his own. His sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) taking over the more people-oriented tasks when she can. But OJ has had to sell some horses to their neighbor, Jupe Park (Steven Yeun), former child actor, who now runs a Western village for tourists. When Emerald comes to the farm for a few days, they realize that there is something floating above them, something obviously alien. They are determined to catch it on camera.
With Nope, Peele continues his line of unusual and very political horror movies. Nope is his least scary film, I’d say, and maybe his most messy, but that messiness, and the film in general are always interesting and meaningful.
When Nope starts, it seems to be made up of disjointed pieces and you keep wondering how they can fit together. But the longer it goes on, the more you can see the common threads connecting all of them. The film considers the relationship between being seen and watching, between watcher and watched, between being and creating spectacle, and how predatory seeing can be. At some point, OJ says, “You can’t tame a predator, you can only enter a working relationship with it” (it’s probably not verbatim, but more or less). The predator here seems to be the movie industry for the most part, or being seen in general. Attention can be magic (when you have a good working relationship), but it can become horror in a second when you become prey instead of a partner. Pretty much all of the characters in the film crave being seen, but it’s also literally life-threatening when you are. (Foucault would have had fun with this one.)
In the end, things don’t come as neatly together as they might have (and maybe that’s a good thing), but I was infinitely grateful that the film does not go the sanctimonious “and why would you want to watch this” route of films that judge their audiences. Nope understands why you’d watch, and it very much understands why you’d want to be seen. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a critical look at power differentials.
The film does have horror moments, but they are few. The film isn’t actually all that scary, especially not compared to Peele’s previous movies. It’s pretty funny, with Kaluuya and Palmer centering the film in their loving and annoyed sibling performance, but there is also a tinge of desperation that Yeun above all brings to the film. The alien element took an – at first – completely unexpected turn for me and generally manages to keep tensions high.
All of this makes Nope an engaging film that is never boring, and that lends itself optimally to analysis and discussion – that seems to become Peele’s signature style, a good one indeed.