NOPE: A profound western horror, equally fun and wicked

It seems horror as a medium of entertainment keeps getting pushed and pushed to new heights. Audiences have seen masked killers tracking down teenagers for decades and are longing for something new, thus a new breed of horror has been occurring with films like Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” and now, Jordan Peele’s “NOPE”

Daniel Kaluuya plays OJ, a stubborn horse stuntman and ranch owner. After mysterious circumstances regarding falling pieces of metal and horses being scooped into the cosmos, he, along with his fame-driven sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) discover a giant UFO lurking in the clouds. What follows next is a group of horrifyingly brilliant scenes, capturing childhood trauma, the racial/class divide in America, and our entertainment industry as a whole.

The mere fact that the film can balance the seemingly unrelated narratives in a cohesive manner is extremely impressive. The film goes places I didn’t expect, even from Peele who has become something of an auteur with his past films. I love how the film is structured into various chapters that each have their own mood and setpieces.

NOPE wears its influences on its sleeve. There are clear visual references to Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounter of the Third Kind” and Katsuhiro Otomo‘s “Akira” but NOPE still manages to maintain a clear, unique vision from Peele. 

The film looks gorgeous; there are so many amazing shots of this desolate rural landscape at night. Some of the special effects and CGI appear like they could be seen as dated in the coming years but the incredible acting and camerawork completely overshadow any shortcomings in the effects department. 

My biggest issue with NOPE deals with the third act. After two riveting sequences, both involving the character of Ricky, played by The Walking Dead star Stephen Yeun, the film seems to lose that sense of dread and tension it had and I found the ending to be disappointingly dull. It felt like Peele holding back when I wanted him to go all out. 

It also struggles in the soundtrack department, going with the now annoying horror cliche of slowing down an old 80s song, begging the audience to feel some sense of unease. The soundtrack then shifts to an old spaghetti-western-inspired style which, while it sounds great, feels tonally off. It’s not enough to completely drag the film down, but it does prevent it from reaching the heights of greatness I wanted.

NOPE has made $166k worldwide, a low for Peele whose previous two films reached over $250k, and has a current rating of 82% on rotten tomatoes and a 7/10 on IMDB