Director Jordan Peele's much anticipated third feature film Nope is out in theaters today. Nope follows in the footsteps of Peele's first two critically acclaimed horror hits Get Out and Us. With the release of Nope, all eyes are on Peele to see if he can continue his streak of instant horror classics, or if he has his first misfire on his hands. Early buzz has been positive, comparing the film to M. Night Shyamalan's Signs and Steven Spielberg's Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, respectively. Will Jordan Peele's first foray into sci-fi be as successful as what he's done so far?
In Nope, a pair of siblings named Emerald and Otis Junior or "OJ" (Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya) seek to obtain definitive proof of the existence of aliens after they have a few close encounters. They know that ultimately their word to the public means nothing--but a picture, on the other hand, is worth a thousand words. So the two make it their goal to get the perfect money shot of these camera-shy aliens, by whatever means necessary. The two set up cameras all over their property, and start tracking every movement, whatever danger comes their way.
Jordan Peele does an incredible job setting up the tension in the first half of the film, and I found myself having a lot of fun seeing where the story would take the audience. There are a few sequences where one or both of the siblings are checking around the farm after hearing unusual noises (as one does in a horror/sci-fi film), that are expertly crafted and perfectly executed. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer share an easy rapport and make their sibling dynamic incredibly believable. Kaluuya is excellent as the introverted half of the duo, grieving his father's recent passing and acting closed off to sharing his feelings. Palmer, on the flip side, provides a contrast to her film brother with levity and charisma. Disappointingly though, we never delve too deep into their relationship with each other or their recently departed father. It feels odd to set up such a loss without fully addressing it or using it to strengthen their bond. The film definitely could have used more heart-to-hearts to open the two characters up and make the audience care more about them. Instead, Peele leaves the character development on the back-burner and chooses to focus solely on the plot. As such, the ending doesn't pack the emotional punch it was set up to deliver.
Unfortunately, the missing emotional component isn't the only issue the film has with delivering a satisfying payoff. The problem with Nope is its commentary gets in the way of common sense and stakes for the characters. The idea of spectacle above all else is fascinating, but it's really hard to suspend belief and buy the idea that not one of these characters thinks their safety is more important than their mission. Another frustrating loose end is Steven Yeun's character whose backstory feels built up to signify great importance to the story and ultimately goes nowhere, leaving the viewer wondering what exactly was the point in focusing so much time on it. Much like the emphasis placed on the rabbits in Us, you think that Peele will eventually bring everything all together by the end, but unlike that film, this time we're left hanging and scratching our heads.
Those issues aside, Nope is undeniably a fun, fresh, and unique take on horror sci-fi that features a much stronger first half than its second. It's refreshing to see films from a filmmaker with such a distinct vision and style, and Jordan Peele is certainly a fun talent to watch. Peele really does a tremendous job putting all the pieces into place, I just wish it came together more in the end to stick the perfect landing.