‘Nope’ Looks to the Skies and Identifies a Flying and Flummoxing Object

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Nope (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Keith David

Director: Jordan Peele

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for Stunning Bloody Moments and Aw-Hell-No-Style Profanity

Release Date: July 22, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Siblings OJ and Emerald Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) work as horse wranglers on their family ranch out in the middle of nowhere. But they’re also Hollywood royalty, in a way. Their great-great-great-grandfather was the jockey riding a horse on the first strip of film ever assembled as a motion picture. But that’s just background info for the main attraction, as random debris starts falling out of the sky and a cloud begins behaving rather strangely. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve probably already said to yourself, “Jordan Peele and aliens? I’m down for that.” But befitting Peele’s cerebral filmmaking style, this isn’t your typical take on UFOs and ETs.

What Made an Impression?: OJ and Emerald’s dad Otis Sr. is played by Keith David, who 40 years earlier starred in my favorite sci-fi horror film of all time, The Thing. That connection eventually helped me crack the tough egg that is Nope. Typically in scary movies, characters react to the monsters by screaming and running away. There’s a decent amount of that in Nope, but as in The Thing, there’s also a lot of stunned silence. The terror is just too confounding for everyone to know how to react to it. There are several moments in Nope when I couldn’t quite understand what was happening, because people were seemingly under a spell of Zen acceptance when they should have been taking cover from something threatening to devour them. Similarly, I’m not bothered by how much Nope confused me, as I was also fully consumed by Peele’s unique and clever vision.

To be clear, there’s also a lot of energy and verve in response to the unidentified creature. Which is to say, the title is blurted out multiple times in the “I’m not dealing with that $h!t” vibe we were all surely hoping for. But even among the characters who recognize the danger, there’s plenty of excitement about capturing alien activity on film. Michael Wincott plays an eccentric filmmaker who at one point is overcome by a life-threatening urge to capture a moment with the creature with golden hour lighting. Maybe this is just a world where everyone has accepted that they could die at any minute, and they want to go in as thrilling a manner as possible.

But perhaps my favorite scene is one that has nothing to do with the premise, at least not directly. Steven Yeun stars as a local carnival barker and former child actor who shares a story about the time his chimpanzee co-star went berserk on a sitcom set. Or actually, he tells the story about the Saturday Night Live parody about that incident (with era-appropriate cast members, including Chris Kattan as the chimp) in chillingly matter-of-fact detail. It has the surreal energy of a nightmare that also feels like a dream world I never want to leave.

Nope is Recommended If You Like: “The Spielberg Face,” Signs, Declassified alien evidence, Mr. Peepers from SNL

Grade: 4 out of 5 Clouds

The Super-Female Postmodern Thing

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This essay was originally written as my final paper for my Film Theory & Analysis class, taught by Royal Brown, in Spring 2014 at The New School.

“Trust’s a tough thing to come by these days.”
“Nobody trusts anybody now.”

the-thing

A common maxim of what makes the best horror movies effective is that they show relatively little, leaving the most terrifying parts to the imagination. What is unique about the John Carpenter-directed The Thing (1982) is how well it works despite, or because of (or despite AND because of) showing so much of its monster. A novice viewer would be forgiven for not realizing how much it actually does not show. Partly, the lack of showing is obvious: the famously ambiguous ending in which it is heavily implied that either Keith David’s Childs or Kurt Russell’s MacReady is now a Thing (or both are). But most of the rest of the film does not highlight how much is being hidden. It is, as Slavoj Žižek would put it, a product “with a distinctive mass appeal” (1). Its primary attractions are its tense action, creative makeup and special effects, and well-rounded performances. It is therefore qualified to be a postmodern work, and it fulfills that possibility with a premise and a villain that essentially guarantees open-endedness and speculative interpretation that goes beyond the narrative.

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