‘Nope’: A cinematic spectacle done right


Alex Kendall

Graphic by

Jack Muscatello, Associate Multimedia Editor

Jordan Peele, a former guru of sketch comedy, has made a new career for himself since he shocked the world with the film “Get Out,” his brilliant directorial debut that caught fire in 2017. He has since followed this up with a creative dive into the depths of modern horror, crafting a few standout pieces with challenging subject matter and well-realized sequences of pure tension. But he has never done something quite like “Nope,” which was released in theaters on July 22. 

From the film’s opening frame, Peele sets out to make a spectacle, in the vein of Steven Spielberg’s earliest works and classic films that captured the wonder and awe spawned by the unexplainable. He accomplishes this goal with the right amount of style, grace and humor, making “Nope” one of the definitive movies of the summer.

Though it strays from the traditional feats of horror at the center of Peele’s previous projects, “Nope” focuses on one of the more unique terrors that goes bump in the night. The story follows OJ Haywood, a down-on-his-luck rancher, and his sister Emerald Haywood as they struggle to operate a small horse ranch on their family’s property. 

But while escorting one of his horses to the stables late at night, OJ spots something strange flying in the sky overhead — the kind of object that has spawned decades of theories and questions about if we really are alone in the cosmos. After some speculation, he joins his sister at a simple conclusion: maybe it’s a UFO.

Peele taps into this fear of the unknown with a delicate sense of wit. He never loses sight of the comedic potential within this concept, often indulging his characters with opportunities to mutter “nope” at any sight of genuine danger. It’s a brilliant dose of self-awareness, but the moments of comedy don’t detract from any of the terror on display.

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who has made a name for himself shooting in the IMAX format with director Christopher Nolan, captures each encounter with the strange craft in vivid detail. His camera is always grounded, creating a shared perspective between the audience and the characters as they stretch their necks to gaze at the sky. It adds a layer of fascination to the aforementioned spectacle that is seldom seen in the theater today and works wonders for the handful of sequences shot late at night.

But the experience goes beyond the obvious technical achievements on display. Peele often injects strong commentary and deep thematic material into his stories, which adds additional layers for the audience to comb through on rewatches. He applies this same technique here and creates an entire subplot dedicated to dissecting the greed that often follows in the wake of horrific tragedy. Though its development is never fully realized by the finale, one sequence of this storyline is particularly riveting and echoes the terror on the farm in such a unique and mysterious fashion. 

Though this pivot in the story may prove divisive for some, the entirety of “Nope” is brought to life by a cast and crew hellbent on realizing Peele’s vision. 

Daniel Kaluuya brings a quiet persona to the character of OJ, often making bold expressions with his eyes to subtly showcase the pain he is trying to suppress. Keke Palmer excels as Emerald, who is provided a bulk of the comedic material. Though she handles the jokes with perfection, she delivers so many small moments of emotional levity, especially in the final act. 

Peele’s script establishes multiple setups with satisfying payoffs, Michael Abels’ score provides strong orchestral accompaniment to the comedy and horror alike and the work of the visual effects team is emblematic of a strong creative drive to create something new. The film wears many hates throughout its runtime, but a persistent sense of atmospheric dread and tension rightfully permeates across the entire project.

At its core, “Nope” is emblematic of a love for the cinematic experience. Peele has proven himself to be a talented force with more traditional horror in the past, but maybe his vision is best suited with a proper budget, an intelligent concept and a distinct, personal fascination with the idea of following ordinary characters as they uncover extraordinary things – some of which may have been hidden in plain sight the whole time.