Nope review: Jordan Peele’s third film lands

Daniel Kaluuya riding a horse in Nope
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Jordan Peele’s third feature, Nope, boasts gorgeous visuals and excellent lead performances – and here’s our review.

Since starting his career as a filmmaker, Get Out writer/director Jordan Peele has proven he has an affinity for building mystery and tension. With Nope, he gleefully carries this ability over to a slightly different genre, pitting a group of colourful and at times wacky characters against an intriguing foe.

Our protagonists – brother and sister OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood – are the owners of Haywood’s Hollywood Horses. They have a ranch in a desolate gulch in California, they train horses to work in film and TV productions. With business declining, OJ is forced to start selling his horses to local Western-themed entertainment park owner Jupe (Steven Yeun). The showman has his own past ties to the entertainment industry, which he exploits for profit and status. Alongside the Haywood’s father Otis (Keith David) and local tech store worker Angel (Brandon Perea), they begin to experience strange, unexplained occurrences and spot an unusual shape in the sky.

As the happenings continue, OJ and Emerald begin to wonder if the object that plagues them could be not of this world.


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One of the most striking parts of Nope then is the production design. The Hollywood sound stages look pristine, as do the ruggedly beautiful rolling hills near the Haywood Ranch. But the real feat is the lighting – or lack thereof. Many of the suspenseful scenes where the mysterious entity first appears are set at night, and the countryside landscape is illuminated in a very natural way. There are few light sources, so those tiny spots of light create deep, dark and long shadows that dominate the frame.

As a result, these initial encounters with the mysterious entity are truly atmospheric and creepy. There’s also some really strong horror-esque imagery at times, though this isn’t consistent.

Nope also features some interesting and intense characters. Kaluuya and Palmer’s leads are polar opposites – she’s insanely energetic, fast-talking, slightly irritating. He’s subdued, seemingly always exasperated, and says everything he has to say with his eyes. Despite the siblings’ differences, both performers give outstanding, physically expressive performances.

Given that so much of Nope's narrative is about the spectacle of Hollywood and the lengths people go to for fame, many of the supporting players around them are self-absorbed and mildly annoying. However, this does allow for the actors to have fun with them. Brandon Perea (of Netflix’s The OA) gets some memorable introductory scenes as Angel, an average tech support guy who turns out to be an oversharing UFO expert. Although he does become fairly intolerable quite quickly.

When it comes to Keith David’s patriarch, he’s criminally underused. A commanding actor with a distinctive voice and a history of starring in films with doses of horror and mystery (The Thing), his tiny role as Otis Haywood is extremely disappointing. At least’s Kaluuya’s serious and quiet performance as OJ is a grounding force among all of the other high-intensity characters.

In many ways, Nope harbours the same problems with messaging as Peele’s previous outing, Us. The central themes are never quite conveyed in a way that’s clear or effective enough. The focus on spectacle leads to a group of main characters whose motivations aren’t believable or relatable. The Haywoods pour their energy into getting the perfect video footage of the UFO, rather than getting the hell out of Dodge.

Steven Yeun in Nope, written and directed by Jordan Peele

The theme’s also present in Jupe’s childhood trauma, caused by an incident on the set of fictional sitcom Gordy’s Home. Yeun’s character doesn’t seem particularly affected by this. He proudly displays merchandise from the show and makes money out of showing it to people. Sadly, in the grand scheme of things, Jupe doesn’t get much screen time. The scenes delving into his past also feel removed from the rest of the plot, and it never really meshes together.

As the story progresses, Peele abandons the mystery of its main storyline, as the characters figure things out. Once the mystery melts away though, there’s very little to be afraid of or interested in. By the time we get to the final act and the wrapping of things up, the tension has leaked out.

While Nope is undoubtedly a good looking film with vibrant (albeit sometimes annoying) characters, for me it struggles with clear messaging and isn’t able to come up with a final act worthy of the first two. Kaluuya and Palmer do their best to carry the weight of it on their shoulders, but Peele’s third feature has only sporadic moments of greatness. He’s still one hell of a filmmaker, mind…

Nope is in UK cinemas on 12th August.

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