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'Nope' Film Review: A Hearty Throwback to Man vs Aliens Science Fiction

At the heart of this science fiction tale are messages about generational pride and family legacy.
[L-R] OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya), Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) and Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) in Nope, written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele. Photo courtesy © 2022 Universal Studios. 

[L-R] OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya), Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) and Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) in Nope, written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele. Photo courtesy © 2022 Universal Studios. 

Nope, award-winning filmmaker/actor Jordan Peele's third entry in his canon of Black-people-in-distress films, is a hearty throwback to man vs aliens science fiction. Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the movie introduces alien life through human eyes. Except, this encounter isn't warm and cuddly. It has bite. The film isn't as strong as Get Out (2017) or Us (2019), but it's a worthy entry into the science fiction thriller muniments. It has a slightly offbeat tone, as enigmatic as its antagonist, but it works for the oddly detached world Peele’s created in Nope.

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Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood is not only a scene stealer, she's a centrifugal force around Daniel Kaluuya's stable OJ. Her lines are delivered like rapid gunfire, enough to assail anyone who interacts with her. Underneath that bravado, though, is a sincere person who loves her brother. Kaluuya's a signature Peele protagonist, which is a smart person who doesn’t walk into danger. In most horror films, the main character doesn’t often utilize common sense. Peele not only subverts horror and science fiction by having strong Black leads, he has Black protagonists that survive. Kaluuya’s OJ is a quiet, diligent man who thinks before he acts. Also, the double entendre of his name adds to the underlying humor of the film. Kaluuya is a smoldering fire in contrast to Palmer's raging flames.

Peele’s dialogue is Tarantinoesque in that it’s always sharp and idiomatic. The humor always undercuts the ferocity of what’s occurring.

Steven Yeun as Ricky “Jupe” Park in Nope, written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele. Photo courtesy © 2022 Universal Studios.

Steven Yeun as Ricky “Jupe” Park in Nope, written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele. Photo courtesy © 2022 Universal Studios.

Steven Yeun's Ricky has a subplot that bridges the stories of animals and aliens. It's intense and buttresses the movie with a horror element. His flashback scene is one of the most chilling in the film. Connecting Hollywood’s disregard for animals to animals’ primal nature is a clever set up for the motives of the mysterious UFO, aka UAP.

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The visual and sound effects of the movie are magnificent. The desolate landscape is a canvas for visual and aural theatricals. The isolation of the location reinforces the siblings’ human bond. OJ and Em are surrounded by horses and nature but all they have is each other. At the heart of this science fiction tale are messages about generational pride and family legacy.

This Universal Pictures release hits theaters on July 22, 2022.


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