NOPE l Universal Pictures

NOPE is hard to explain. It’s an audacious execution, grand in scale almost to the point of being operatic. It’s a film that we could spend hours and days and weeks dissecting. Diving into the intricate layers and symbolism hidden beneath the surface, I was lucky enough to see NOPE a few weeks back, and yet here I am still trying to unpack it all. Jordan Peele has created the unbelievable, an epic sci-fi film that will linger with each and every viewer for days and weeks to come.

Reuniting with Peele is Get Out actor Daniel Kaluuya. Playing the role of OJ Hayward, he’s a quiet man tasked with taking care of the family business, Hayward’s Hollywood Horses, the first Black-owned horse trainers in Hollywood, after the untimely death of his father. During filming for a commercial that quickly starts going south, we meet OJ’s sister, the rambunctious and unpredictable Emerald Haywood, played with a fiery passion by Keke Palmer. Giving one hell of a monologue about the cultural importance and impact of Hayward’s Hollywood Horses, it becomes apparent that these siblings couldn’t be more different from one another. However, we come to see that OJ and Emerald are the yin and yang to one another with Kaluuya and Palmer’s natural chemistry making their relationship a believable scenario.

Situated near the ranch is Jupiter’s Claim, a family-friendly roadside attraction owned by former child actor and reality TV star Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park, played by Steven Yeun. Ricky and OJ have continued a close business arrangement which was originally started by OJ’s dad. With Emerald in tow, the siblings visit Ricky as OJ is hoping to sell off one of his horses. It’s here that Emerald begins to quiz Ricky about his experience as a child actor, setting into motion one of the more intriguing elements of the film. Out of all the characters, Ricky is the most mysterious. A man who is trying to outrun his past but is riddled with the impact of trauma, it’s clear that Ricky is searching for something. He wants to be something. He wants to embrace the fame he once had. But underneath his pearly white smile and charismatic persona, Ricky’s story is the tipping point for the film.

What ends up bringing all these characters together is an unexplainable phenomenon witnessed by the siblings while on the ranch. Hoping to get answers to what they just experienced, OJ and Emerald head to Fry’s Electronics where they meet Angel Torres, played by relative newcomer Brandon Perea. A UFO/alien nut, Torres forces his way into OJ and Emerald’s situation after installing a slew of surveillance cameras on the property. He becomes a major player within the film and offers much-needed comic relief through the more nail-biting moments.

What’s really impressive about NOPE is the way in which it is visually executed. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Tenet) captures the grand vastness of the Santa Clarita Mountains and their natural beauty. But it’s done in a way to show just how isolating this area is. However, it’s the type of place you’d want to visit if you were hoping to have an alien encounter. Additionally, he helped in creating one of the scariest moments of the film through the use of framing and camera tricks. I still can’t shake the feeling of what I experienced during that moment. Additionally, major MAJOR props to production designer Ruth De Jong (2017’s Twin Peaks) who brought to life Jupiter’s Claim, creating a set that looked like any roadside attraction you’d pass along your way to Vegas, or even Area 51.

I was recently asked where I would position NOPE in Peele’s filmography and I can’t give a definitive answer because NOPE is unlike anything Peele has created in the past. Get Out and Us had a lot to say on the surface about societal and racial issues, whereas NOPE is more subtle in its messages. It’s a film that years from now will be looked back upon not only for its contribution to the sci-fi genre but also for the messages we interpret from it. There’s so much to explore with this film and I imagine the list of theories will be endless.

With NOPE, you’ll read many different reviews and bear witness to a display of reactions. But here’s what’s important to remember, NOPE is an experience. And we are in control of how much of that experience we want. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Some of the editing as well as the decision to divide the movie into segments can be somewhat jarring and out of sorts from the overall tone of the film. And there was a huge missed opportunity with Barbie Ferreira’s character, but that’s minuscule when looking at the big picture.

So what is NOPE? In my honest opinion, it’s a reminder to all of us that if you fuck with nature, it’ll come right back at you tenfold. We are not the superior beings. There is always a bigger threat out there and, the longer you poke the bear, the bigger the consequences to come. Respect nature. Because if you don’t, you’ll be swallowed whole.

The film will be released by Universal Pictures worldwide on July 22, 2022. Are you ready to witness a miracle this summer?

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