By Diana Beechener
When siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya: Judas and the Black Messiah) and Emerald (Keke Palmer: Lightyear) discover that a UFO is menacing their ranch, they see an opportunity. With bills piling up, they decide to buy some camera equipment and get an indisputable shot of alien life visiting Earth. Not the blurry footage that they’ve seen on YouTube, but an honest-to-god glossy image—something Oprah Winfrey would want on her show.
But getting the “Oprah Shot” isn’t as easy as it sounds. First, OJ and Emerald have a spikey relationship due to some family trauma. Emerald ran far away from the horse training business as soon as she could, while OJ stayed to doggedly follow in his father’s footsteps. Second, and this may not surprise anyone who’s ever looked at UFO footage on YouTube, it turns out alien visitors aren’t big on getting photographed.
The pair get a few things on camera that suggest something is indeed in the sky above them, but as OJ puts it “it’s good, but it ain’t Oprah”. So the siblings decide to up their game. But they aren’t the only ones looking up at the sky, and soon this two-person operation gets a lot more complicated.
Can OJ and Emerald work together to get the Oprah Shot? Or are there bigger things to worry about in this world than an alien?
Director Jordan Peele (Us) burst onto the scene with two brilliant works of horror. Influenced by auteurs like John Carpenter, Peele uses horror as a metaphor for specific societal ills. It makes the scares run deeper, because there’s an element of reality in even his most whimsical touches. Nope, while not quite as developed and nuanced as his past work, is still a fun, atmospheric romp.
With this sci-fi horror, Peele seems to be drawing more from Spielberg than Carpenter—specifically Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Nope is essentially Jaws as a space Western. It’s filled with stunning visuals, delicious tension, and a passel of truly fascinating ideas.
The result is good. But it ain’t Oprah.
The problem with Nope isn’t a lack of brilliance, but perhaps an abundance of it. Peele has a lot to say, stuffing the narrative with some great ideas about humanity’s hubris when it comes to the natural world, family dynamics, greed, and fighting for your spot in the limelight. The problem is there’s not enough time to fully develop any of those ideas. The result is a movie that is tense, entertaining, but not quite as deep as it seems to want to be.
Palmer and Kaluuya help Peele with his myriad of ideas with some great work. Palmer, whose star is clearly on the rise, is the energetic, slick talking Emerald, who takes after her father as she does a charming safety spiel at the beginning of the film. She’s so effortlessly open and inviting, even as she shamelessly promotes side hustles and wheedles for better deals. Kaluuya’s OJ is her polar opposite. Painfully shy and more comfortable with horses than people, OJ is deeply resentful that his sister isn’t as committed to the family business as he is. But the curse of good acting is that it leaves you wanting more. And with Nope, the family dynamics and backstory feel underdeveloped.
Still, if you’re interested in a summer blockbuster that has the thrills of Jaws with a slightly more modern sensibility, Nope is here to offer the spectacle. Make sure you see this in a crowded theater so you can feed off the gasps and laughs of the audience.
Nope is playing in theaters.
Good Sci-Fi Horror * R * 130 mins.