Jordan Peele’s new “Nope” is a resounding yup for us

Why his third project, a new science-fiction horror film, is his best directorial outing to date

“Nope” is a neo-Western, science fiction horror film from writer-director Jordan Peele. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”), Keke Palmer (“Turnt Up with the Taylors”), Steven Yeun (“Minari”), Brandon Perea (“The OA”), Michael Wincott (“The Crow”) and Keith David (“The Thing”). The film follows two ranch-owning siblings who, after their father’s death, attempt to get rich by filming a UFO. As one might expect, things go wrong, and we suddenly have a horror movie.

I loved Peele’s directorial debut “Get Out,” but I did not enjoy his sophomore effort “Us,” so I was cautiously optimistic about “Nope.” With that, I’m very happy to say that “Nope” might actually be Peele’s best film to date, at least from a directing standpoint.

Peele has great taste in actors, so it’s no surprise that the performances are one of the biggest highlights of “Nope.” Palmer is a naturally charismatic performer, and she injects a lot of comedy into the film. But, whenever she’s required to participate in the more dramatic and horror-oriented sequences, she handles them deftly. Yeun delivers a lot of subtlety and gravitas to his role, and I honestly wish he was in more of the film.

Out of all of the actors, Kaluuya gives the best performance. A lot of this comes from his very wide, expressive eyes, which add a lot to his scenes. There’s a sequence about halfway through the film where Kaluuya’s character is stuck in his truck and observing the UFO from the safety of his vehicle. A lot of this scene consists of close-ups on the actor’s face, and he sells the character’s fear and confusion in a way that few actors can pull off.

“Nope” is also Peele’s best-looking film to date in terms of both cinematography and computer-generated effects. Part of this might be due to the $68 million budget (in contrast, “Get Out” and “Us” had a $4.5 million and $20 million budget respectively), but I believe that a lot of the credit should go to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. He is responsible for the beautiful camerawork in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” so his involvement with the film added a sense of spectacle to “Nope.” The film pays homage to Westerns, which tend to have a lot of wide landscape shots; thankfully, these are within Hoytema’s wheel-house, and he excels at making “Nope” a visual treat. The film’s use of lighting and superb shot composition works well to let the audience determine whether they should be focusing visually on the characters or on their surroundings. The film’s visual effects are mostly well integrated into the film, but there are some moments where the CGI looks a bit fake. This wasn’t a significant problem, so I won’t take any points off, but it was something I felt like mentioning.

Critics and audiences seem to be polarized about the film’s screenplay and, although I think it was well-written, I can understand why people disagree. There’s a subplot dedicated to Yeun’s character, which contains flashbacks to a traumatic incident that occurred when he was a child. While many have stated that these flashback scenes are the scariest of the film, they have also said that these scenes feel disconnected from the others. However, I believe that this subplot works to highlight the film’s themes of exploitation and spectacle, specifically regarding animals throughout the history of cinema. I don’t want to spoil the film, but it’s essentially about a group of people trying to poke and prod at a force of nature that they are unable (and unwilling) to understand. So, all in all, I think that the screenplay works.

My only real criticism of the film would be the musical score from Michael Abels. The score is well-composed, but, unfortunately, its usage in the film wasn’t always effective. There are a few moments where his bombastic music adds to the film’s epic tone and neo-Western style. However, there are also a few sequences where the music kind of took away from the film. There are character moments that are supposed to be emotionally resonant, and they would have been more successful if the music was either quieter or completely absent. This is more of a personal preference, but this did occasionally take me out of the film.

“Nope” is Peele’s strongest film to date. It serves as a great blend of science fiction and neo-Westerns while also dealing with themes of spectacle and exploitation in a unique way. It boasts great performances, beautiful visuals and a (mostly) effective score. I don’t know if he will stick with the horror genre in his next film, but I’m excited to see what he does next.

Rating: Yup!… I mean, 9/10