Jordan Peele pushes boundaries with ‘Nope’

The film may not employ many traditional horror techniques, but it still works very well


“Nope” is unlike Jordan Peele’s previous work.

Cooper Sullivan, Multimedia Managing Editor

I do not like horror films. I forgot this fact when the trailers before “Nope” started playing. I took my hat, lowered the brim to cover my eyes and told my friends to tell me when they were done. Once the movie I actually wanted to see started, my eyes were glued to the big screen for the next two hours.

Unlike Jordan Peele’s previous projects — which I watched years after their theatrical release, on a laptop, in my bedroom, with the lights on — I was going into the dark theater with absolutely no knowledge about what I was going to witness outside of a single word: “aliens”. 

Six months after inheriting the family’s commercial horse-wrangling business in the Southern California valley, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) are forced to loan out horses to the nearby Wild West-themed amusement park run by former child actor Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun). One evening, a mysterious presence envelops the valley, spooking the remaining horses and cutting power to the house. On the off chance that this phenomenon is intergalactic, the siblings head into town to purchase a high-tech surveillance system, not only to figure out what is really happening but to capture “the Oprah shot”, so all the fame and riches would follow.

“Nope” is not a traditional horror film, and while there are elements of similarity between this film, “Get Out” and “Us”, “Nope” pushes the boundaries of Peele’s films and the horror genre as a whole. Many of the hair-raising scenes take place during the daytime, allowing for beautiful shots of the Agua Dulce gulch to be experienced by the audience. However, just because a lot of the shots happen out in the open doesn’t mean the shots are clear as day. Not only are OJ, Emerald, Jupe, a local surveillance system installer Angel (Brandon Perea) and Hollywood cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) trying to capture a good shot of this extraterrestrial force on camera, but the entire audience is as well. I was craning my neck, moving around in my seat, trying to see past the black borders of the screen, forgetting that I was not actually a part of the movie but merely a spectator.

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Many critics of “Nope” say that the film isn’t scary enough, that the storylines have no connection, and that there isn’t enough explanation for the antagonistic force — named “Jean Jacket”. I would argue that withholding information and forcing the viewer to not know why something is happening is terrifying in its own right. What the film lacks in jumpscares, mystique brings fear right back into the equation. And the jumpscares that are in the film…yeah, they work.

Putting the horror and thriller aspects of “Nope” aside, and looking at it simply as an economic investment, the movie experience is well worth the watch. The chemistry between Kaluuya and Palmer is so strong and natural that it makes you reevaluate your relationship with your own siblings. The effortless emotion each actor conveys is just the right amount — neither exaggerated nor understated — which, if not perfect, can detract from the narrative experience. The comedic relief of Angel, and any joke written in the script, is never forced and perfectly placed. I was thoroughly entertained the entire time, and when I walked out of the theater, I was glad I went — which should be the goal for every time you spend a semester’s worth of tuition at AMC. 

Peele has now written, produced and directed three films. After each previous release, he was celebrated and lauded for his work, its cultural impact and improved skills as an auteur. In a relatively short time, we consider them to be important cinematic works. “Nope” deserves the exact same response.