From it’s earliest beginnings, Jordan Peele’s Nope has been cloaked in the kind of secrecy, normally reserved for Christopher Nolan movies – and inconveniently, it’s arrived slap bang in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival, a month I usually devote entirely to comedy and theatre. Nevertheless, I make time to see it. Now having done that, I’m not entirely sure I’m any better off.
Nope is the story of the Hayward siblings, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), who, after the mysterious death of their father – struck by something unidentified from the heavens – are struggling to keep their business going. They supply horses to the film and television industry but OJ isn’t the best at getting on with people, while Emerald is his polar opposite, too interested in promoting her own projects. (We also learn that Haywards are direct descendants of the unnamed black jockey from the iconic silent film by Eadweard Muybridge.)
With revenue falling, OJ decides to sell some of his stock to Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun), who runs a ramshackle Western show, based not far from the Haywards’ ranch. Ricky is a former child actor, whose career was infamously ended when the simian star of his TV series ran amok and attacked his human co-stars. Scenes from the carnage in the studio prefigure the main action, but this feels like an entirely different idea grafted uncomfortably onto the main storyline.
OJ begins to suspect that something is hiding in the clouds above the ranch, something that’s responsible for his father’s death and which might be of extra-terrestrial origin. He and Emerald decide they need to photograph it, telling themselves that the resulting pictures will be their ‘Oprah’ moment, the answer to all their money worries. With this in mind they enlist local tech worker, Angel (Brandon Perea), to help them achieve their goal and they set about capturing the mystery on film.
But what’s up there might not be what they think it is…
Many films are short of ideas, but Nope has the opposite problem. Not content to make a straightforward UFO film, Peele throws in a whole mess of different images and subtexts. Some of them are great, others mystifying, but what’s for sure is that they don’t coalesce enough to make a satisfying whole. While there are certainly spectacular moments here – especially when the IMAX photography concentrates on the heavens and the action taking place up there, I leave feeling annoyed that Nope is neither fish nor foul. It could have been a superior sci-fi epic or it could have been a sinister horror tale. It can’t successfully be both those things.
Which ultimately means that Peele started at the top of his game with Get Out, slipped up somewhat with his second release, the ambitious but flawed Us, and now needs to consider very carefully where he goes next.