There something Human Centipede about this…
A family of horse ranchers who have a history in Hollywood, experience strange goings on in their valley after a death in the family…
“Academy Award Winner” Jordan Peele, director of horror hits such as Get Out and Us, returns to the big screen with Nope, after a spell of writer/producer credits on TV productions such as the Twilight Zone remake and the Candyman remake. Both TV escapades receiving middling reviews. It would seem that this new big screen return is passable, if somewhat lacking.
Now, to explain that opening statement. Nope feels a lot like a “premise movie.” That is to say, a movie that lives and dies on its premise alone, but lacks the film-making heft or drive to fully deliver on its gut-turning ideas. This was similar to the effect The Human Centipede had; to sit anyone down and describe the idea behind that film and they will be instantly repulsed. But watching the film itself, is surprisingly lacklustre. Nope, unfortunately, will require spoiling to give the comparison justice, but in doing so will be intriguing and ghastly for the listener… And as per the comparison, the film doesn’t really get there.
But first here’s a summary that doesn’t have spoilers.
The film is quite slow to get going; if you are expecting a scary-a-minute horror that gives you jump-scares, you aren’t going to get it. The film opens with a monkey on a TV set, covered in blood, for example. Similar to Peele’s previous film Us, this cold open comes up again later… although not quite as ominously. The pacing is slow, with the film opening with a sudden death in the family setting siblings against each other before anything strange brings them back together.
Backstory of the family is welcome, of course, and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Keke Palmer (Lightyear) are both excellent as brother and sister, one brooding and thoughtful, the other energetic and proactive. You get a sense of their personal agency, and why they might do the things they set out to do. The premise is established and frees up the later acts to go crazy without repercussions of “Why did they do that?” critiques.
The film has a fairly light attitude for the most part, but not overly comedic. Our heroes are out for themselves, even when things get desperate and fatal, adding realism alongside the levity. When the faeces hit the fan, though, yes, the film can have some intense moments and some really unpleasant ideas once it hits home. This is almost entirely in the film’s final act.
Is it worth the wait? Absolutely. If you haven’t been spoiled by the rampantly spoilerific trailers that Universal Studios released. So consider this the non-spoiler part of the review. It is a solid movie, with good, grounded performances and a slow-build pace. Not out to scare you, but more to unsettle you.
If you like science fiction movies, paranormal thrillers like The X-Files, definitely check it out.
Now for the spoiler part of the review, and why the film is a little like The Human Centipede. Okay? Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know anything, and it is recommended that you do go into this film blind. Blind to spoilers and the trailers. All right. So, in 2022 it is a little hard to take in a movie about aliens and flying saucers. If this had been released in the 1990s, it would have been gangbusters. But today… it just… feels like a tired science fiction sub-genre. Have you seen Signs? More or less the same idea.
But the grisly details of Nope are saved right until the end. Turns out it isn’t an alien ship tormenting people, but a living creature. A creature that hoovers up living things and devours them. The really sick idea is that the creature’s orifice is open all the time, so after consuming living creatures, their screams are heard as it flies around. This is extremely chilling and an awesome idea for a horror film. But… we don’t really get a good look at it all, the inner workings, the visceral nightmare. There’s one, extremely brief sequence. Which didn’t feel like enough. There’s a lot of time dedicated to the psychotic monkey sub-plot, which is linked to the overall story somewhat, but it isn’t as invaluable as the screenplay thinks it is.
This is why it only gets 3/5 cups of cocoa. It just wasn’t punchy enough to be really memorable. That and the trailers gave too much away, which doesn’t help at all.
[No trailer for you!]