Jordan Peele’s “Nope” manages to be a frightening, violent horror movie that doesn’t rely on jumpscares or an excessive amount of gore to be scary.
The movie is set on a ranch called Haywood Hollywood Horse Ranch, centered around Otis Jr. “OJ” Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer). The focus at the start is the two deciding how to run the ranch after the unexpected death of their father, Otis Sr. (Keith David) from a coin that shot down from the sky. Nearby is a carnival attraction themed after the wild west, “Jupiter’s Claim.” The attraction is run by a former child actor Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) banking on his fame following his survival of a grisly incident on the set of a sitcom called “Gordy’s Home.”
The main antagonist of the movie is a strange UFO that seems to hide in the clouds near the ranch. It appears to be sucking up horses and even people in the area, but the truth underneath the flying saucer’s appearance is much darker.
Daniel Kaluuya played OJ quite well. This isn’t his first rodeo (no pun intended) with a Jordan Peele movie, considering his breakthrough role was as the protagonist of the movie “Get Out.” He’s proven himself to be a great horror/thriller leading man, but the other protagonist’s casting was a bit of a surprise to me.
Keke Palmer’s performance was a particularly memorable part of the movie. Considering I mostly know her from her Nickelodeon sitcom “True Jackson, VP,” I was very impressed by her capability for dramatic acting. Usually I get hung up on former Nickelodeon/Disney television actors’s roles and can only see them as such, but Palmer was able to break that for me; her acting felt incredibly real.
Real-life film references were incorporated into the movie as well, with a primary example being the direct reference to “The Horse in Motion,” one of the first motion pictures in the world. The Haywoods claim to be direct descendants of the man riding the horse in that film, which brings a sense of legacy to their Hollywood horse farm.
I enjoyed the way violence and gore were handled in the movie. It had some, sure, but it wasn’t a tactless use of it. I mentioned the “Gordy’s Home” incident before, which was a pretty good example. There was a lot of bloodiness, but the movie had the restraint to keep the actual violence off camera. It may be a disappointment for gore junkies, but for the average viewer, it made the scene more tolerable while still being gut-churning from the sounds of the violence.
The movie also seems to interrogate the authenticity and even the safety of media for entertainment, both live and recorded. Many deaths and general violence come from what starts as general entertainment, and the main characters’ ancestry in film seems to doom their livelihoods in the end.
Overall, the movie was deeply unnerving in the way good horror should be, and I was yet again impressed by Peele’s capabilities as a director and writer, as well as the incredibly vivid performance of the cast.