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Film Review #7: NOPE

Written by Hazel Sim


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Can you look away from a spectacle even if your life depended on it? NOPE examines the various approaches to viewing, taking in, and recording a spectacle. 

In the San Fernando Valley of California, NOPE begins with a horse ranch off the coast of Agua Dulce, a small interior gulch. The Haywood family has been successfully raising horses for Hollywood for many generations. Otis Haywood Junior (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) struggle to run the ranch while grieving the death of Otis Haywood Sr (Keith David) in a freak accident. They then take advantage of the situation after discovering something curious in the skies above, while the owner of an adjacent theme park tries to profit from this mysterious and otherworldly phenomenon. 


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Steven Yuen plays Ricky “Jupe” Park, a ‘90s sitcom child star who now operates Jupiter’s Claim, a small Western theme park carnival in the same remote location where the Haywoods have their ranch. Jupe was swallowed up and spat out of the entertainment world as a kid celebrity, which later mirrors the overarching theme of exploitation. Jupe announces a live show in Jupiter’s Claim with intentions to use Lucky, one of Haywoods’ horses he bought as bait, to draw out the UFO in front of a paid crowd. He claims to have built a solid rapport with extraterrestrials he refers to as “the Viewers” in charge of the UFO.  


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

In the film’s closing seconds, an alien encounter that starts out lifeless and uninspired transforms into one of the most captivating sequences ever seen on screen. Getting the audience to utilise their imagination is one of the things that makes a horror film like this so fascinating. Overall, watching NOPE was exciting and interesting. The film is full of the kind of deliberate creative decisions by writer-director Jordan Peele that we’ve come to expect. It alternates between expansive, tableau-like views of rural California and cramped interior depictions of the alien abdomen. The eerie wind whispering and the fearful horses’ neighing are intercut with light, string-driven music.


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

NOPE is a UFO thriller of otherworldly terror, though much less a psychological horror than its eerie and piercing predecessors, GET OUT (2017) and US (2019). Still, it is at home, dense with social subtext, eccentricities and imaginative tangents as we would expect from Peele. The tone of NOPE is less combative and much more ruminative when addressing topics such as racism and exploitation. Its primary subject of criticism is also its primary object of affection: cinema. There are scenes in this film that pay homage to earlier masters such as Hitchcock in its treatment of suspense, Spielberg (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, 1977), and Shyamalan (SIGNS, 2002), as well as ones that celebrate the pure joy of making movies.  

You can’t see this cowboys-and-aliens monster movie without thinking deeply about racism, ecology, labour, and the toxic, alluring force of contemporary popular culture. There are intriguing contrasts between breathtaking sceneries and genuinely repulsive sights, a recurring hallmark of Peele’s filmmaking style that is also evident in his previous two movies.

As the credits start to roll, there is much to think about as the film medium itself is deconstructed. A Bible verse similar to US could be another breadcrumb to follow. Nahum 3:6 states, “I will pelt you with filth, treat you with contempt, and make you a spectacle.” Peele also quotes Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Angels as the main inspiration as the film’s main inspiration for the monster within. Horses play a significant part in this emphasis on animals. NOPE’s recurring motifs reveal the idea that deadly creatures should be treated with the utmost respect. If one were to look deeper, NOPE is a sophisticated showbiz story about the sinister side of spectacle-making and exploitation.

NOPE is now showing in cinemas near you. The DVD and Blu-ray release date is slated for October 25, 2022, and the Digital HD version will be available on September 20 through Amazon Video and iTunes.

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This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme organised by The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.

About the Author: Hazel is a lover of cinema, music and culture. She is particularly fond of Asian narratives that go untold and the slow burn in films, much like the Kacey Musgraves song.

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About the Movie:
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, Brandon Perea

Year: 2022
Duration: 2h
Language: English

Synopsis:
Two siblings running a horse ranch in California discover something wonderful and sinister in the skies above, while the owner of an adjacent theme park tries to profit from the mysterious, otherworldly phenomenon.

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