Jordan Peele’s latest horror film, NOPE (2022), tells a UFO story in a clever and engaging mashup of sci-fi, horror, and Western tropes. I’ve really grown to admire Peele’s contributions to the horror genre. The man has something to say, and he always explores new territory.
In this film, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Em (Keke Palmer) struggle to maintain their father’s ranch and business training and handling horses for film and TV productions. They make quite a pair, as OJ is taciturn and introverted while Em is flamboyant and outgoing. When they see signs of a strange flying object in the area, Em hatches a plan to capture it on film and make a financial killing. While this is going on, Jupe Park (the always delightful Steven Yeun), who grew up a child actor and was a survivor of a tragedy in which an ape goes on a rampage on set, going on to set up his own Wild West entertainment center, seems to know something about it. The object, however, is hungry and hunting, and it isn’t something to be trifled with.
What I liked: the general weirdness with odd touches of humor throughout, the ape losing it during a TV shoot, the landscapes at the ranch, and the fun characters, who when confronted by threat often say “nope” and go in the opposite direction. I liked seeing Keith David and Michael Winscott again, doing what they do best. The characters are all pretty likable, and there is a nice dynamic between OJ and Em. The climax is compelling. Immediately, you get the sense this is a Jordan Peele production, not your average horror film, and as usual he presents his material that is economical about taking itself seriously.
That being said, I felt like I would have cared a whole lot more about what happened and who it happened to if Jupe had been the main character. His backstory of the TV show that ended in tragedy is really compelling and offered a great deal of depth to a character who doesn’t have much of a role to play in this movie. Of all the characters, he had the closest thing to a character arc, only it went unfinished, and the main protagonists, who again are likable enough, don’t really have a character arc at all. If the story had been told from his point of view, I think NOPE would have been truly great.
Overall, I liked NOPE one as a polished horror film that offered something new to the genre and was a lot of fun to watch.