Review: Nope (2022)

Nope (2022) Nope (2022)

A writer director’s “fever dream… that he doesn’t know he’s constructed”.

Speaking on what Nope is about, writer/director Jordan Peele expresses his aversion to “hitting you on the head with some kind of ‘message'”. Listening to his cast speak on it, in turn, is revealing: at one end, Keke Palmer echoes and expands on Peele’s keywords; at the other, Steven Yeun describes the set as feeling like the director’s “fever dream… that he doesn’t know he’s constructed”, while Daniel Kaluuya alludes to work involved in unearthing the director’s intentions. This, to me, reflects the interesting dissonance between intention and expression in Nope: its message is clearly personal, but perhaps more internalised than is helpful for the audience, or than makes for effective storytelling.

Nope traffics in genre tropes as a jumping-off point to saying something specific: Peele, as the better directors do, utilises established cinematic grammar to coin original expressions. But that’s tricky territory: expression can be so personal it becomes esoteric; and not hitting the audience over the head, veering too much in the opposite direction, can mean withholding from the audience some basic essentials for understanding, or opportunities for engagement.

Peele and Palmer speak about “spectacle” and “exploitation” – but i’m not sure Nope communicates spectacle in the way they describe, and the exploitation elements the film leans on often lead to into cul-de-sacs or serve as distractions – the opposite of spectacle and exploitation.

Steven Yuen, who plays Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park, describes a process with Peele where “intentions would change minute by minute” – not a bad thing inherently, but a telling one, of the impressionistic approach to constructing Nope. My feeling is that:

There aren’t quite enough dots on the canvas for Nope‘s impressionist painting to fully or satisfyingly take form. Stand back far enough, and the picture only becomes so clear before it simply gets smaller.

Nothing in Nope quite matches the pitch promised in the scenes of The Gordy Show massacre. When that story becomes framed by Ricky’s telling of it, we’re then removed one degree from it, and its impact. Then Ricky leaves the film by fulfilling a narrative function, but not completing a character arc. This feels emblematic of several elements of Nope: in a film with some amazingly-realised moments of tone and feeling, there are others, like Ricky’s character, which feel less than fully-realised; elements whose inclusion ultimately feel less reinforcing than distracting.

I can appreciate that after his extraordinary debut Get Out (2017) – which Peele stressed was never intended to be “meta”, and wished to be viewed as “just” a horror movie – the writer/director might be interested in less obviously didactic storytelling, or at least exploring different ways of making a horror movie. One thing that struck me about Get Out, and specifically Peele’s words about it, was the 1-to-1 relationship between intention and impact. But then the film between that and this, Us (2019), featured an incomplete internal logic which placed it in a no-man’s land of its own, its ultimate exposition and final schlock-twist rendering it neither allegory nor “just” horror. Nope is certainly beautifully and expansively shot, but perhaps not as vividly realised at it is felt.

Further Viewing

The behind-the-scenes featurette which offers insight into the distance between inspiration and realisation in Nope:

Please please please tell me my not getting this film doesn’t make me sound like LP: