My initial reaction as the credits rolled on Jordan Peele’s third feature film, Nope, was that I wished the extraordinarily talented writer, director, and producer would return to a smaller scale of filmmaking and storytelling along the lines of his 2017 debut, Get Out. However, as I have continued to reflect upon the experience of my first viewing of Nope, I become further removed from that opinion. In the days since my press screening of Peele’s latest, I find my daily thoughts continually returning to the experience of sitting in a dark theater for 130 minutes with a fully entranced packed crowd. I could feel each audience member hanging on every tantalizing frame of the film.
Even after repeatedly seeing the teasers and trailers in the months leading up to this July release, Nope was ultimately a very different movie than I had expected. I have to give a lot of credit to the marketing of the film, which teased just enough of the general premise without revealing key details of the central thesis. While the success of this film does not depend on its lack of predictability, this is a crucial element to the viewing experience of Nope. There were moments where I thought I knew exactly how the following 10 minutes of the narrative would play out. And, although generally following a similar arc to my anticipation, there were key details in those 10 minutes that changed a lot about my overall perception of that timeframe.
Nope is definitely the slowest burn of Peele’s films so far, but I appreciated this time in the first act that was spent getting to know the characters and feeling the weight of the suspense. The opening two scenes of the film set an eerie tone right off the bat, but the following half hour is purely focused on providing characterization for the protagonists, the siblings OJ and Emerald Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, respectively).
The Haywoods are horse ranchers who train steeds for film and television production. Additionally, there is another critical plot point that revolves around the importance of filmmaking — specifically, the challenges of capturing a UFO on video footage. And let me tell you, I am a sucker for movies about making movies — even more so when they are made by someone with such an obvious passion and zeal for their art form like Jordan Peele.
The screening for Nope that I attended was in a Dolby Atmos theater, which heightened the effect of the sensational sound design crafted by Johnnie Burn. So much of the atmosphere in this film relies on the paralyzing terror that can be brought forth by pure silence. Obviously, a recent example in the horror genre that comes to mind is John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place franchise, but I think another apt reference for a film that uses silence to this degree is the Coen Brothers’ 2007 Best Picture winner, No Country for Old Men. Sure, the monstrous entity which is so prominent in Nope takes a slightly different form than Javier Bardem’s assassin character Anton Chigurh in the Coens’ neo-Western, but the nature of the ambiance is comparable between these two films.
I do intend to take a trip back to see Nope in an IMAX theater, as the Dolby Atmos theater — while a unique and irreplicable theatrical experience in its own right — did not support the expanded ratio of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s large format 65mm cameras. From a cinematography standpoint, this is one of the most fascinating films I have seen this year. The majority of the runtime takes place on the Haywoods’ ranch, but the narrative and visual scope still feel unbelievably vast, epic, and sprawling. Hoytema’s use of scale and space are exceptional, which should not come as a surprise considering that this is the same Director of Photography who collaborated with Christopher Nolan on projects like Interstellar, Dunkirk, and Tenet (not to mention the upcoming Oppenheimer, the historical drama about the creation of the atomic bomb).
Now, to discuss more of this relationship between Peele, Hoytema, and Nolan — Peele was recently interviewed on the ReelBlend Podcast. Kevin McCarthy of Fox 5 DC asked Peele if he had contacted Nolan to talk about his creative partnership with Hoytema and their innovative IMAX cinematography practices.
“Yes, I did. And [Nolan] is an absolute pioneer with this work. And what he and Hoyt have done together has been particularly inspiring, with Dunkirk, and Interstellar, and Tenet. Chris, he sat me down and said, ‘hey, look, it’s a thing. It’s absolutely addictive, it’s intoxicating, but it’s something that when you make the choice to do it, you have to really do it and to make sure everybody understands that it’s different.'”
Peele continued, “I think what film does as opposed to digital is something that working with IMAX also compounds, which is a sense of importance, a sense of preciousness, that everybody feels like they’re working on something a little bit more important. And this is something Paul Thomas Anderson talks about too.”
Many conversations surrounding the horror genre today seem to be an attempt to narrow its definition. Some will say that a film should only be considered a horror movie if it has elements A, B, and C, or storylines X, Y, and Z. I have even heard the comment that Nope does not fall into the horror category. However, I think saying this would be a disservice to Peele’s film and the capacity of horror in general. I do not believe that we should place parameters around genres and try to fit stories into boxes like this. Of course, Nope is not a “traditional,” straightforward horror piece in the vein of ghost stories, demon possession narratives, slashers, etc., but it has moments that are genuinely terrifying, like all of Peele’s films to-date. He tells stories that combine supernatural thrills, family drama, social commentary and satire, and subversive comedy. Nope is ultimately a film about humanity’s intense obsession with the concept of danger, and our eternal desire for control — even a control over things in the world that all laws of nature dictate to be beyond our reach. It’s hard to think of anything more horrifying than that.
In regard to Peele’s previous two films, I would still say that Get Out is my personal favorite, which I hold to be a flawless masterpiece. When I first watched Us in 2019, I actually was not a huge fan. I respected its ambition, but was left underwhelmed by the final product. However, when I rewatched Us the following year, I loved it. With that in perspective, I would say that I like Nope even more than Us at this moment — which means that I am probably going to find an even deeper adoration for Peele’s third feature with each repeat viewing.
The movies are all right, folks. And they are only going to get better.