Until its “ah-ha” moment at the end, Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) was a unique blend of almost satire, almost horror, and almost socioracial statement. Staying at almost would have kept it above standard, but there’s no denying the ending was a predictable horror movie cliché.
Peele’s second round with Us (2019) also started strong but quickly became an M. Night Shyamalan/make-up-the-rules-as-we-go affair with loopholes galore.
Now, Mr. Peele bestows us with Nope, and, yup, it’s another second-half letdown despite a promising setup dealing with family trauma, UFO sightings, and two lovable leads.
Hollywood wrangler siblings played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer deal with the recent violent and mysterious death of their father on their property. Metallic objects fall from the sky, an ominous cloud tends to stay in the same place above the acreage, and an occasional power outage results in frantic horses and menacing screeches from the sky.
The way Jordan Peele captures the tension in the air is enough to recommend the movie’s first hour. You know how you might catch yourself staring at something you should probably stop staring at? (Like a fed up mom getting a little too aggressive with her bawling kid at a public park?) Well, Jordan does that with his camera and stares just as things get awkward and tense, and then “we” stare some more. Just before the break, the buildup is so aggravating that you can hear the winces and grimaces in the theatre audience.
This consistent execution of suspense is the reason to see Nope, and I guess there’s only so much you can do with a UFO storyline before the rabbit is out of the hat, and the alien is revealed. Like Shyamalan’s Signs (2002), you ultimately get a lot of slapdash explanations and convenient circumstances that put a lid on suspending disbelief. (Remember when water on a planet that is 71% water was discovered as the kryptonite to the aliens in Signs? Well, wait until you discover the Achilles’ heal of Nope‘s aliens.)
Still, Kaluuya’s facial expressions and reactions to the madness are priceless, the gaps of humor are pleasant enough, and something has to be said about making an ordinary, everyday object frightening.
I will never look at clouds the same way again…
*** out of *****