Early on in Jordan Peele's Nope, we see OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) in an awkward position of giving a speech his father Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) would give during safety meeting on set. The Haywoods own Haywoods Hollywood Horses, handling and training horses for movies. OJ tries to get the speech out as he is dedicated to carrying on his father's legacy after Otis senior dies in a bizarre manner. Luckily his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) arrives late but just in time to take over.
The speech is a history lesson about the earliest instance on moving images. Eadweard Muybridge took a series of photos in the late 180ss of a jockey riding a galloping horse. Emerald asks the people on set if they know who the jockey was. It was her great, great, great grandfather, proof that the Haywoods have had "skin in the game" since the beginning of showbiz. But where are the Haywoods now? They are struggling to keep the horse business afloat now that CGI horses can convince audiences. OJ is committed to making the business work. Emerald is looking for a way out.
Nope finds Peele working in a devasting lament on the future of film while widening the scope of his filmmaking. The film's title is a great running joke that would make perfect sense in a horror movie but works wonderfully in this sci-fi adventure. It suggests characters who know better than to put themselves in danger. OJ and Emerald are certainly smart enough to know better than to pursue capturing footage of the UFO stalking their ranch but something keeps them from running away. They want that "Oprah shot" perhaps for different reasons but these siblings' bond unites them.
The two, despite trying to avoid it, enlist Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) into their efforts. Angel is a Fry's Electronics employee who believes in aliens and inserts himself into the pursuit after installing security cameras all around the Haywood ranch. Antlers Holst (Micahel Wincott) is a weary cinematographer who they lure in to help with the promise of a legendary shot. He seems to relish the challenge of capturing something that shuts off electronics whenever it is nearby. The most fascinating side character comes from Steven Yeun as Ricky "Jupe" Park. Ricky is a former child star who now runs Jupiter's Claim, a two-bit Western theme park that neighbors the Haywood's property. Ricky's backstory involves the scariest thing Peele has put to film yet.
From frame one, Nope gallops with confidence. Peele and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema make great use of the IMAX format, shooting vast skies that force audiences to be on the lookout for the alien flyer. The vast space above, shown both in bright sunshine and overcast nights, illustrates how tiny our human characters are by comparison. It is a trick that never fails to create some delicious suspense. Combine this with the fantastic sound design, have horses ever sounded this otherworldly, and you get a summer blockbuster with a distinct style and vision.
Nope delivers thrills, laughs, and scares but Peele's brand is to have social commentary woven into his stories. Nope looks at the dysfunctional relationship society has with spectacle. He is also bringing forth his fears about the future of film here. All of this never gets in the way of the compelling story of two siblings who are trying to make their lives have an impact. OJ and Emerald contrast each other's personalities but their love for each other carries the film. You feel for them and care what happens, making the thrills all the more powerful.
Nope is proof Peele can do more than horror. Pulling on influences like Jaws and even Fire in the Sky, he has made a smart, original, and memorable summer thrill ride. The cast is all great but this film will make a star out of Keke Palmer.