Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Jordan Peele and Daniel Kaluuya get back together — but Nope lacks the excitement of Get Out

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In its spooky moments, Peele’s third film has the twisted, nightmarish feel of David Lynch – but it never quite manages to build the suspense

nope is full of bravado but undermined by an incoherent plot. If his characters are sometimes flabbergasted by what’s going on, I’ve been equally bewildered by the many sudden swings in tone and style here.

In his latest satirical horror, Jordan Peele ventures into it close encounters Area. The writer-director of Go out and Us came up with a story about an alien spacecraft hiding behind a cloud near a horse ranch in California’s Santa Clarita Valley.

Peele begins the film in a menacing manner with a quote from the biblical book of Nahum (“I will throw abominable dirt on you”) and a shot of a blood-spattered monkey who appears to have massacred a family on the set of the 1990s all-American sitcom.

The director has an uncanny ability to pick images like this that are startling, surreal, funny and terrifying – often all at the same time. The challenge is to find the structure that accommodates his many lightning-fast ideas. His style is deliberately elliptical. He doesn’t want to burden us with too much context, but he risks scratching our heads. For example, how does this murderous monkey relate to the aliens lurking behind the cloud?

Visually, this is a majestic affair, shot by superb cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (whose previous credits include Dunkirk, she and Let the right one in). Peele throws in images of skies, mountain ridges and horses galloping across dusty plains, much of it filmed with IMAX cameras. The director’s irreverent humor contrasts with the beauty of the landscapes.

Go out‘s Daniel Kaluuya plays horse breeder OJ Haywood. Keke Palmer is his sister Emerald. Together they run the family business founded by their legendary father, Otis Haywood Snr (Keith David), providing services to the film and television business. They live on a remote and scenic ranch, but after the sudden, mysterious death of their father, they struggle to stay afloat.

This may be Peele’s version of a summer blockbuster, but it goes well beyond popcorn entertainment. He is as interested in issues of race, violence and celebrity as he is in scaring us with invading aliens. At one point he intersperses fascinating old footage shot by 19th-century film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge of a rider on horseback. This photographic study has long been considered an important stopover in the early history of the moving image. However, what nobody acknowledges or remembers is that the driver was black. His name has been forgotten by racist film historians.

nope also combines sci-fi and western tropes in an intriguing way. Strange things have been happening at the ranch and at the nearby western theme park run by Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star with dark secrets about his past.

The most compelling part of the film concerns the Haywoods’ attempts to capture the “Oprah shot” – a clear image of the UFO on camera – with the assistance of a laid-back electronics store clerk (Brandon Perea) and a gnarly old documentary filmmaker (Michael Wincott) .

In its spooky moments, the film has the warped, nightmarish feel of one of David Lynch’s dark and offbeat dramas, where the ground slips out from under your feet. However, the final reel showdown is a bit clunky. Peele slices between motorbikes, horses, and lots of rubbery, multi-colored, wind-swaying sky dancers (these are used as early warning systems) without really managing to crank up the suspense.

Kaluuya is the same engaging presence he was in Go out, is rarely disconcerted, no matter how gory or whimsical events get. And thanks to Hoytema, the film has the look of an epic old John Ford western. What nope What is missing, however, is the tension and excitement that lay alongside the more surrealistic elements in Peele’s earlier films.

nope hits UK cinemas on August 12th

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