Rated R because it is a Jordan Peele horror movie. But this is mostly an R for language and some gore. Unlike Us, the focus isn't the brutality necessarily. It's funny that I contextualize it like this, because objectively there still is a lot of blood. Blood rains from the heavens at one point, yet I'm cool with that. I really could see this being a movie that you could potentially edit for TV because a lot of the scares happen off camera. Still, it's intense...so R.
DIRECTOR: Jordan Peele
I wanted to write yesterday. I really did! That's not a joke. Sometimes there are only so many hours in a day and I had to actually start work. (Kind of). Anyway, has there ever been a movie with such a perfect title? Part of me really wants to fight the title. When I heard that the next Jordan Peele horror movie was going to be named Nope and that poster came out, I was thrilled. Then the first trailer came out and it was really cryptic. But that is also a title that lasts as long as the marketing department allows it to last. Because now that I've seen the movie, the title Nope doesn't really apply outside the fact that people say it a lot. Regardless, I love it and will stand by that title, despite the fact that detractors probably have more evidence on their side.
Peele has made three horror movies up to this point: Get Out, Us, and Nope. All three have been critically acclaimed. But Nope has the weakest of the reviews. I mean, the critical response is still overwhelmingly positive. But the notes I've seen pulling away from Nope is by how confusing it is and how disparate the elements seem to be. I think that this might be the foundation for today's blog because I disagree. I think that Peele is so good at world-building that things seem disparate when everything has a certain degree of value, even if it doesn't work as a one-to-one form of storytelling.
One thing that I would like to make clear: there is the attitude of writing that asks writers to kill their babies. I run into this a lot, but criticize it in others. Often a writer will have a scene in their heads. It's perfect. But that stroke of genius doesn't belong in this particular story. A bad writer will try to shoehorn that scene into a tapestry that doesn't bond with that moment and the entire story suffers for it. It's J.J. Abrams' big red ball. He keeps trying to make it work and the stories don't necessarily accommodate for that moment. I can see people accusing Peele of doing the same thing in Nope, especially with the "Gordy's Home" sequences. Honestly, the most brilliant thing in Nope is the "Gordy's Home" stuff. It's the scariest element of the movie and it is quite upsetting. I'm going to defend that element first.
I think that there's a racial message in all of Peele's movies. (Give me a second!) There is, but I think people want it cleaner than they are ready for. With Get Out, the allegory was clear. The story screamed about the use of Black people for moral cred and simply as an extension of slavery through being seen as a commodity. Us, that movie went a little bit more complex. You could read Us as this story of an unseen group of people that could rise up and take over if they absolutely wanted to. But with Nope, Peele seems to understand that race is part of the everyday experience. Characters are Black, but they are more than Black. They should have horror movies about them where the experience is not directly linked to their Blackness. Peele's going to comment on the role of the Black man in Hollywood with Nope, seen as someone who needs to entertain to be heard. But he doesn't make it the crux of his argument. Instead, he is going to make his movie have a message that maybe people weren't ready to hear. He wants to talk about comfort, entertainment, and how we're completely killing ourselves given enough opportunities to do so.
When the movie starts with "Gordy's Home", it's upsetting. We learn that the "Gordy's Home" segment only has a remote relationship with the alien that is plaguing OJ and Emerald. Their relationship with Jupe uncovers that, when Jupe was a child actor, a chimpanzee went crazy and started slaughtering all of the cast of a popular sitcom while Jupe watched the whole thing from under a table. Because Jupe has led this artificial life, jumping from movie to TV show, ultimately landing his own reality show, he is unable to gain the distance to evaluate the lesson of "Gordy's Home." It's a story for him, one that had been communicated on SNL of all places. From Jupe's perspective, it makes him sympathetic and draws the attention to him once again. But from our perspective, it's about spitting in the face of nature for the sake of entertainment.
With "Gordy's Home", there was a TV show that aimed at the lowest common denominator. It wasn't art. It was meant to sell commercials to people who were tired from going to their jobs all day. They knew that people thought that monkeys were funny and that's as much thought that went into making a show about a chimp that lived with a family. There was no respect for the force of nature that they were dealing with. When Gordy ultimately murders the cast, it's a lesson that needed to be learned. But because Jupe was unable to glean that lesson, he makes the mistake on a far grander scale. We find out that Jupe knew about the alien far longer than OJ or Emerald did. In fact, he was busy marketing the heck out of the alien in the cloud to turn a profit. Like he did with Gordy, he put the spotlight on a force of nature that he didn't understand or respect and it got people killed.
When considering OJ's perspective, he's in a weird place. His ancestor, the jockey on the horse that originated film, was a representative of a force of nature that was ignored for the sake of a science experiment. Emerald, like most of the people in Hollywood who heard the Heywood story, finds the tale enchanting. But there's something about OJ that is aware of the tragedy of that story. He is in the entertainment business almost reluctantly. He loves the animals and respects the power of the horse, but he needs to make money in the way that his father taught him. That scene at the beginning where he feels so uncomfortable on the lot, shows that he's there for the horse, not for the shot. It's because of his respect for forces that no one can truly understand that gets him through the events of the movie.
The closest that OJ comes to dying is when he starts becoming interested in filming the alien. I do love the fact that the alien doesn't necessarily conform to the myth that Hollywood and pop culture has given to the flying saucer. Although the beast looks like what propmakers have deemed to be men from Mars, it's actually an animal that is complex in its methods of hunting. It's in this moment that the filming of the creature goes from being exploitative, like Gordy, to altruistic. He knows that this creature is infinitely more deadly than any creature living on the planet and that film becomes something noble. Anders doesn't realize this. Anders is still wrapped up in getting the perfect shot. He forgets the goal and that's what gets him killed. Sure, Anders at least is doing it for art, but it is art that he doesn't understand.
In terms of quality of a movie, Nope delivers exactly where it should. I always find flying saucer movies to be more of sci-fi thriller than formal horror, but Peele really rides that line. I found it --in terms of tone --more in common with Signs, which is appropriate because that is M. Night Shymalan's third movie as well. Yes, there are scares. Some of them are great. But this feels more of a survival against nature movie than a formal horror movie. The alien terrorizes them in the same way that an animal hunts. When Peele gives you more than that, it makes all of the world feel all that more real. There's a lot going on here that I really enjoy. I know that this might not have been everyone's cup of tea, but it absolutely brought what I wanted to see to the screen.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.