“Sure looks strange to me…”
While just about everyone is pretty sure they know what Jordan Peele’s third feature is about, the film has kept most of its secrets relatively close to the vest. Even the comparatively tell-all third trailer promised that “it’s not what you think,” and it’s not – at least, not exactly. But, if you want to experience the reveals for yourself, it’s best to stop reading now and go catch the movie as cold as you can. And to do it soon, because I guarantee you, spoilers are going to be all over the damn internet in a hot minute.
Still with me? Okay, I’ll try to keep from giving too much away, but I’ve gotta talk about the movie and I can’t do that without telling you at least a little more than the trailers have. So, here’s the thing: this is Peele’s Steven Spielberg movie.
For obvious reasons – reasons that are obvious even without getting into spoilers – the most immediate comparison is going to be Signs. Which was, incidentally, M. Night Shyamalan’s third horror feature, as well. Hopefully this doesn’t bode ill for the future of Peele’s career. In fact, you would be forgiven for calling this “Signs but good” for most of its running time. But then, Signs was good for most of its running time, too. It just shit the bed in its last act.
This doesn’t do that, though it does boast a reveal that would make Shyamalan proud. But even before it gets there, Signs isn’t the most accurate comparison, just because it’s the most obvious one. This is more like a shaker made up of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws, with maybe a bit of the meanness of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds thrown in for good measure. Jordan Peele’s Nope is rated “R” for a reason, after all, and it gets bloody before all is said and done.
It isn’t just the nature of the threat that calls to mind those Spielberg classics, either. It’s the way that the movie is preoccupied foremost with the characters and a little slice of their world, and how that world is changed by the threat, in ways both big and small. At the same time, the other thing that the third trailer promises is a “spectacle.” And Nope delivers more than once.
Something I appreciate about Peele’s filmography is how each movie in it samples from a different aspect of horror royalty, while still maintaining a consistent style. This is Peele’s take on a summer blockbuster, in the Jaws rather than the Avengers vein. He calls it his love letter to “my favorite art form and my favorite way of watching that art form: the theatrical experience.” There’s even a planning sequence around a dinner table – during which Michael Wincott unforgettably recites lines from the novelty song “The Purple People Eater” – which could stand in as this film’s version of the Indianapolis speech.
At the same time, while this is certainly Peele’s biggest film to date – and also his longest, clocking in at more than 2 hours and 10 minutes – it’s not necessarily his most ambitious. The ideas at play here are cool and clever and deeper than they look at first glance, but they don’t touch the wildness of Us. This may be for good or ill, depending on your patience for that film, but it’s certainly true. And patience is something you may also need for Nope, as it’s probably also Peele’s slowest film to date, even while he continues to demonstrate an aptitude for keeping tension high.
Indeed, Nope still has all of the qualities that helped his other two films reach the status of instant classics, including a knack for intricacy that makes it all look deceptively simple. Peele’s movies are like those 3D posters that you had to stare at to make a picture show up. What seems, at first glance, to be unrelated bits of ephemera or even nods to other movies, all comes together to make up a picture that only snaps into focus in hindsight.
Such is the case with Nope, where disparate parts including a familial tragedy, a Hollywood horse training operation with ties to the earliest moving pictures, a Western-themed amusement park, those inflatable flappy guys at used car dealerships, a grotesquely ill-fated sitcom, and, of course, what appears to be a UFO, all link up in unexpected ways, so that each piece works in tandem with the others to make a whole. Is that whole as good as Peele’s previous efforts? It’s probably too soon to say, but even if it’s not, it’s still head and shoulders above most other things.
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.