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Nope is more clever sociopolitical commentary in the guise of horror 

Writer-director Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) helms this sci-fi mystery about the Haywood family, who owns a struggling horse ranch providing horses to the film industry. After witnessing strange UFO phenomenon in their remote inland valley, siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) believe the solution to their financial woes is to capture video proof of alien life, enlisting Fry's Electronics worker Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and eventually Hollywood renegade auteur Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) to capture the footage. (130 min.)

click to enlarge SPECTACLE CHASERS (Left to right) Brother and sister OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood and video expert Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) try to capture a flying saucer on tape, knowing it will lead to fame and wealth, in Nope, screening in local theaters. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MONKEYPAW PRODUCTIONS AND UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Monkeypaw Productions And Universal Pictures
  • SPECTACLE CHASERS (Left to right) Brother and sister OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood and video expert Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) try to capture a flying saucer on tape, knowing it will lead to fame and wealth, in Nope, screening in local theaters.
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Glen The film opens with a biblical quote from Nahum 3:6, which reads, "I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle." Like all of Jordan Peele's "horror" films, the horror is merely the tip of the sociopolitical iceberg below. In this case, it's a story about our deep thirst for spectacle and the ridiculous lengths we'll go to get it. In addition to the Haywood family, the story also includes the Parks—former child actor Ricky "Jupe" Parks (Steven Yeun) and his wife, Amber (Wrenn Schmidt)—who run a super tacky Wild West attraction in the same valley as the Haywoods' horse ranch. As part of the backstory, Jupe was a survivor of a horrible animal attack on a TV show, which turned the show's mythos into exactly the sort of spectacle our characters are inviting into their lives. Creepy, at times bloody and gory, and often very funny, Peele's Nope proves he's adept at creating a unique brand of social commentary disguised as entertainment.

Anna Peele's brand of horror is right up my alley, and while Nope didn't play psychologically as much as Get Out or Us, it did keep me in rapt attention. The setting is ripe for feelings of isolation and entrapment; the beautiful canyon soon starts to feel like a trap. After Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) dies following a bizarre phenomenon, OJ is undeniably lost. His grief has nowhere to go in his isolated life, even when his sister Emerald tries to draw him out. He's stoic and understated, a real cowboy. He wants to do good by his father's legacy, still scared to disappoint the man—even in death. Kaluuya is a true gem and Peele knows it; he cast him in leading roles here and in Get Out. What OJ starts to realize is that this isn't an alien ship cruising around looking for earthlings to beam up. There's much more to this complex creature. The tension is wound tight, but that doesn't mean there aren't laughs. This is a wonderfully well-rounded film that builds a world instead of a flat picture.

Glen Nope also turns out to be an insightful film about filmmaking and cinema's history of exploitation. At one point, as Emerald tries to convince Holst to come film the phenomenon, he considers it by saying, "I do one for them so I can do one for me." In other words, he does schlocky commercial dreck so he can fund his "art." He wants to capture the shot to end all shots even if it means risking it all. Think death by selfie. He's soon at the ranch with a mechanical camera that alien technology can't short out. Everyone involved is hell-bent to exploit the alien for personal gain. I especially liked the parallelism between Jupe's animal mauling backstory and OJ's discovery that looking the alien in the eye will make you its target. What is filmmaking other than looking straight into the eye of the spectacle before us? With Peele behind the camera, we can't look away.

Anna I love the cut-tos of the animal-mauling backstory. It's a piece of the puzzle that at first glance doesn't seem to have much to do with the main storyline—until it does. I don't mind a slasher flick, but this type of intelligent "horror" is something I'll watch time and time again. The acting and the directing are brilliant. Parea as Angel was great comic relief as the dismissive tech whiz turned obsessive team member. Palmer is also wonderful and funny as Emerald, who has no interest in ranch work but has no problem being the star of every show and hustling every way she can to make it in Hollywood. I encourage you to give Nope a chance—it will reel you in and keep you on the line from beginning to end. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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