Director – Jordan Peele – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 130m
The alien in the sky finale when the film finally dumps the other stuff *****
A black Muybridge model’s ranch-owning descendants and the survivor of a TV sitcom which turned into a bloodbath encounter a dangerous alien presence that attacks from the sky – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 12th
There appear to be three separate films here.
In the first, a descendant of the black rider photographed in Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of a horse in motion, here historically repurposed as the first piece of moving film (which is debatable), is an old man OJ Haywood Sr. (Keith David) who dies in a bizarre accident on his ranch, where he runs a horse rental service for the motion picture business, leaving behind his children OJ (Dan Kaluuya from Judas And The Black Messiah, Shaka King, 2021; Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, 2018; Get Out, Jordan Peele, 2017) and Emerald (Keke Palmer from Lightyear, Angus MacLane, 2021; Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria, 2019). The bizarre accident may be related to the third plot. Or may not be.
In the second, a wholesome, family TV sitcom is shut down after its star chimpanzee goes on a rampage during the shooting of an episode, killing all members of the cast except the young boy Ricky Park (Jacob Kim) hiding under the table, who witnesses the animal being shot.
In the third, Ricky Park (Steven Yeun from Minari, Lee Isaac Chung, 2020; Burning, Lee Chang-dong, 2018; Okja, Bong Joon Ho, 2017) has grown up to run roadside fairground attraction Jupiter’s Claim not far from the Haywood ranch, including a hidden room of memorabilia from the show, where thrill seekers can, for a vast sum, spend the night. OJ sells him his late father’s horses. Meanwhile, there are UFO sightings in the area as well as a mysterious, never-moving cloud. As the narrative proceeds, the flying saucer gets ever more predatory. Can anyone stop it?
OJ, Emerald and Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), the man from local DIY hardware store Fry’s, who sells the siblings surveillance equipment to watch the clouds, are going to try. To get evidence of the creature on film, they enlist the help of top cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott).
I’m sure other people will try to connect these three via long, convoluted theses. I’m not even going to try. When Hitchcock made The Birds (1963), his characters did various things before the birds attack which made us feel great sympathy for them and want them to survive the bird attack when it comes, even though in some senses what the characters do, at least initially, is completely unrelated to the bird attack. Maybe Peele is trying to do something similar here, but he lacks the canny storytelling sense of a Hitchcock, and it doesn’t work.
Exactly what Peele Is trying to achieve, I have no idea. I’m not sure he does. There are ideas about black people and culture which tick all the right Hollywood, liberal political correctness boxes but have nothing to do with what appears to be a creature feature. There’s a weird strand about a psychotic ape on a TV sitcom set. And then, for the finale, there’s this terrific entity in the sky movie.
It’s great that the three main cast members are two black people and one American Asian, I’m all for diversity. The three leads, Kaluuya and Palmer in particular, give great performances. The visual effects are extraordinary. However, in the end, this is either pretentious, well meaning, politically correct twaddle or a terrific alien in the sky movie depending on which bit of the film you watch.
Perhaps the clue is in the title.
Nothing I can say will stop you watching Nope. It’s a mess, though. After you’ve watched it, get hold of Hitchcock’s The Birds and see how it should be done.
Nope is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, August 12th.
Trailer (The Birds, 1963):