‘Nope’, Jordan Peele’s latest cinematic banger is a cross-genre spectacle
The man who invented his own horror-cum-socio-political-commentary film genre has released a new masterwork – and it will open your eyes, says Hanna Flint
Monday 8 August 2022 By Hanna Flint
Nope is the third feature from comedian-turned-horror aficionado Peele, and after watching it in IMAX at Cineworld Leicester Square in London this week, I left the venue with a true sense of awe. It’s a cross-genre cinematic spectacle about our obsession with ‘The Spectacle’ and its cultural evolution through screen images that Peele examines through his distinctly Black lens. He creates a throughline from one of the first moving images of a Black jockey riding a horse to a pair of Hollywood horse-wrangling siblings striving to capture footage of an unidentified flying object plaguing their ranch, throwing in surveillance culture ideas that speak to the specific insecurities of African-Americans navigating a country that ceaselessly watches and scrutinises them. And breathe.
Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are in their element, and the perfect pairing as brother and sister OJ and Em; her mile-a-minute way of talking juxtaposed with his man of few words demeanour makes for some hilarious and heart-wrenching moments. It can be awkward in films when you hear characters utter the title, but in the various ways these two deliver that one syllable it always feels natural and never knowing.
Nope is a celebration of cinema and the Black community’s contribution to it. It has both the summer blockbuster, fear-inducing feel of Jurassic Park and the cerebral gut-punching introspection of Arrival, infused with Peele’s trademark undercurrent of social tension, comic relief and nuanced characters that ensures the storytelling is intimately grounded. ‘Humanity is the monster in my films,’ the filmmaker once said, and that theme is reinforced through a subplot involving a rampaging chimpanzee called Gordy on a sitcom set. The hubris of mankind is our continuous need to dominate and control the unknowable. Even when we witness the fallacy of that outlook, arrogance often blinds us from these lessons in order to profit off the spectacle.
As a film critic and fan, I don’t think I’ve felt so consistently excited or invested in a particular film director’s cinematic offerings since my parents let us rent M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense from Blockbuster for my 12th birthday. The filmmakers have a lot in common; both are creators of colour who put themselves on the map with their game-changing, genre-bending takes on horror and followed it up with even more original films – Unbreakable and Us – that earnt slightly less praise for the risk-taking concepts. There’s also similarities between Nope and Signs – aliens, rural setting, big farmhouse, flashbacks, family-focused – yet there is a uniqueness to these films because of the artistry of the filmmaker who made them. Interestingly, even in the critical response to Nope and Signs, again, the reviews are less enthusiastic than their previous releases.
There’s a part of me that’s slightly worried for Peele that he’ll suffer the sort of backlash Shyamalan received during the ups and downs of his 20-plus year career. Hollywood certainly has a special sort of animosity reserved for filmmakers of colour; often they are held to a higher standard than their white peers, and when their films don’t make box office they get fewer opportunities to continue their work. Shyamalan recognised the best way for him to succeed was to invest in himself – he remortgaged his own house to make The Visit – and continues to do so. Now his once-maligned work like The Village and The Happening have experienced reappraisals, while his last four high-concept films have earnt critical praise and made mammoth profits against their respective budgets.
So, if Jordan Peele continues to be compared to Shyamalan, I hope it’s done in a positive sense. Shyamalan continues to stay true to his brand of storytelling, and what Peele is serving up is vital, fresh, and consistently using the history of cinema to challenge the norm. If it means getting magnificent films like Nope, then he’ll always get a ‘yep’ from me.
When creativity collides with capitalism
The decision to shelve the completed Batgirl film has sent waves through the film industry and I am among the critics, creators and industry peers furious about it.
There is a dearth of female superhero movies, let alone ones led by an Afro-Latina and made by an Arab filmmaking team. And you have to wonder, if the film was led and made by white men, would the same decision be made? I’m devastated for all the people who spent seven months in Scotland shooting the film – I happened to be in town for Glasgow Film Festival during that period and was so excited to see all the production trucks and barriers set up in the city centre.
Now, instead of releasing the $90m film on HBO Max as planned, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav chose to take a tax write-down, according to The Hollywood Reporter. No more sobering reminder that often the gatekeepers in control of cinematic art care more about the business than the show.
Where to watch Nope at the Houses this month