As Hollywood continues to lean towards cinematic homogenization, it’s a rare treat when a director can make something unique and genuinely from their heart. It’s usually only the auteurs who are given those chances. “NOPE”, being only the third film Jordan Peele has written and directed, establishes him in that elite club. Like a mad chemist, Peel has crafted a movie that is both fresh yet familiar and layered with precise doses of humor, thrills, sci-fi, horror, and social commentary.
OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) cares for a remote horse ranch that his father (Keith David) established as the only Black Owned Horse Ranch for Hollywood. Their horses have appeared in a multitude of famous films, or almost appeared in them. OJ’s sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer) visits on occasion, usually to help out on gigs, but for the most part, has her own life elsewhere. Their love for each other is apparent, but their conflicting personalities don’t always mesh well. Em is light-hearted and boisterous. OJ is quiet, always thinking far more than speaking. He’s also haunted by an unexplained event 6 months prior that upset their world.
Nearby is a touristy wild west town, run by former child actor Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park. (Steven Yeun) The Haywoods get along with Jupe reasonably well, but OJ has been forced to start selling his horses to Jupe to offset the family’s growing debts. It’s under all these pressures that strange events begin to occur on the ranch. Horses leave their enclosures and sometimes disappear entirely into the night. OJ catches a strange object out of the corner of his eye. Or did he? One of the great things in movies like these is watching reasonable characters discuss with each other, logically, the unexplainable. As the mystery grows, the Haywoods draw others into their world. Brandon Perea who plays a slightly annoying big box electronics store installer becomes a welcomed and hilarious addition to the madness. Michael Wincott steals a handful of scenes as renowned cinematographer, Antler Holst. The world-weary and jaded Holst borders on satire as a man who has peaked too soon in life and is tired of the stature he has earned. Every growling word he utters drags itself out from the depths of his soul, which makes his somber recitation of a famous 50’s song later in the film quite delightful.
“NOPE” is a film that works best the less you know. Some of the recent trailers are crimes against cinema as they reveal too much. If the setup described above is still too vague, imagine the pacing of “JAWS” mixed with sci-fi, a strong dash of horror, constant (smart) humor, a reverence for family and personal legacies, commentary on wild animals and showbiz, love for cinema, and a hint of Westerns. “NOPE” is one of the very best films of 2022, and should be enjoyed on the largest screen with the best sound system available. There are some wonderful visuals, but the sound design of this film is out of this world. It would be a shame to miss out on the full experience.