Some animals ain’t fit to be tamed.
The gaping maw of the unknown, manifested and lurking above. Crippled by our insatiable thirst for knowledge, we stare into the void until it screams back, reverberating the anguish of its victims across the sky, chewing up all it can consume and spitting out the refuse. Our minds rotted, corrupted by profit-driven mania, we slowly lose grip on the world around us, overtaken by a twisted sense of self-importance and supremacy. The blue sky grows dark and clouded, a mottled and indecipherable puzzle closing in on a dusty valley, crimson raindrops splattering the landscape below. Something’s out there.
At the zenith of our capitalist nightmare, we’ve become so easily bought. Neon nylon, waving frantically in the wind, lines the streets. A cheap gimmick sells low-brow, unoriginal television. The plastic façade of a time gone by crafts the sanitized idea of an aesthetic, built to siphon money for a hokey souvenir with name recognition and franchised tie-ins. It’s empty, meaningless, just garbage hiding behind blinding spectacle until its slowly bloating corpse explodes and bites back. Jordan Peele’s Nope is steadfastly intent on manipulating its audience at every turn, playing with our ravenous desire for spectacle as we blissfully watch our characters’ violent destruction at the hands of the very same. Peele’s spectacle, however, is anything but empty, a full bore unrelenting experience that feels as enduringly fresh as it does eminently terrifying, perpetually threatening the violence that lingers above.
Split into distinct chapters and littered with flickering memories of the past, Nope often feels disjointed in the moment, but, as the larger picture begins to unfold, it reveals itself to be intelligently plotted, a film almost infinitely looping back on itself as it seems each moment is in specific, critical conversation with another — every instant feeding into its delirious grand climax. Opening with a grainy viewfinder peering at an eerily empty multi-camera sitcom set, the shaky handheld camera pans across the chaos until a blood-soaked monkey comes into frame: an unnaturally terrifying sight that forges the foundation of the film’s sensibilities. Soon cutting to Otis Haywood Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya returning to the world of Jordan Peele with a brilliantly pensive yet consistently commanding performance) enduring the swift and brutal death of his father, Otis Sr. (Keith David), as a supernatural occurrence violently descends on their family ranch, the film builds an intriguing atmosphere out of its grisly imagery, beginning to thread Peele’s familiar thematic insistence through its breakneck switchbacks of comedy and terror.
A descendant of the jockey featured in the first series of moving images on film, Otis Jr. now runs his father’s Hollywood horse ranch, steadfastly dedicated to the legacy of his family’s space among film history. Peele’s repeated notions of film on film become integral forces to Nope’s inertia, the importance of our connection to film played against our destructive obsession with spectacle. Otis and his sister Emerald (a sensational Keke Palmer) frantically attempt to capitalize on the threat in the sky by capturing footage of it while the nearby Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun as a former child star turned tourist attraction old west town proprietor) attempts to capitalize on it by building a viewing theater to sell tickets to see it in all its mysterious glory. As the unspoken duel between the two unfolds in each horse-named chapter of the film, the sky descends on Agua Dulce, the representation of open aired freedom suddenly becoming constricting and terrifying thanks to stunning cinematography. Hoyte van Hoytema shoots the night with incredible clarity and plays with the darkness to instill a hum of anxiety within each frame.
An atmosphere of palpable, existential dread permeates the film, a distressing sense of smallness as the film confronts humanity’s powerlessness to the unknown; pride coming before the fall as we continue to regard our self-importance before our ability to acquiesce to something we don’t understand. We strive to make the impossible possible: chasing a high that we’ll never reach; climbing a mountain we’ll never summit; only achieving it through perverse transcendence. We construct palatable narratives, neatly boxed scenarios that feel acceptable in the case of confrontation with something we don’t understand, failing to comprehend the infinite gravity of what the unknown truly has in store. We stare into the abyss, and it stares back, slowly coming towards us as the world slows and the lights dim in its wake, ready to crush you into fine dust, screeching with unholy fervor as it bears down. Closer. Closer.