Keke Palmer costars in “Nope”. (Courtesy photo)

By MAGRIRA, Special to the AmNews

I don’t want to hear anyone say “I don’t like horror movies” when thinking about sliding into a cool movie theater to experience (yes, experience) Jordan Peele’s newest masterpiece “Nope,” which can be accurately described as wonderfully creepy and a clever mashup of modern sci-fi, which is also a stone-cold thriller. 

The interesting thing about jumping into horror is that we, the collective we, seem to enjoy tapping into our fears. And the closer to the “truth” the experience, it seems, the better the scare. So, it’s safe to say that most of us are afraid of UFOs, with a large section of the global population believing that they have been “hiding in plain sight” for millions of years, if not longer. 

Some critics have mentioned how Peele’s been influenced by Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” but it’s been so long since I’ve watched the film, I can’t say that I agree with my esteemed colleagues.

“Nope” stands on its own and with strong actors like Daniel Kaluuya bringing his character Otis Haywood Jr., nicknamed OJ, to life, you already know the film is on the right track. Early on, he reunites with his spirited, chatterbox sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), on the California horse ranch they inherited from their father, Otis Sr. (Keith David), who dies during a mysterious shower of inanimate debris. 

This has been a family business for generations, making their money renting out horses to the entertainment industry, with the Haywoods serving as on-set wranglers and horse whisperers. But OJ isn’t interested in keeping the family business alive and wants to sell it. 

But we all know how life goes and before he can get the opportunity, he’s forced to chase a horse that has leapt the fence of its training arena. Remember, animals always know when something evil is brewing. 

What OJ witnesses, in the distance, is an unusually big and active crowd that’s lit by floodlights, giving that creepy feeling of an assembled outer-space cult. 

More signs appear with each one growing weirder: a cloud that doesn’t move and has not budged in weeks; winds that act like devastating, fast-moving tornados; and, finally, a dark object that glides and moves through the air like nothing we’ve seen on this earth. 

Now, we all know how we feel when witnessing something we just don’t want to deal with—offering the strong statement “NOPE”—and this is cleverly and amusingly laced throughout the film.

We all know that many cultures maintain that their origins are from the stars, so the belief that we are not alone in this universe is as old as time itself with UFOs holding a special place in our hearts. When I read that officials continue to maintain there is “no evidence” to prove it, I understand just how deep the conspiracy is to hide the truth from the world.

 

Now, what makes “Nope,” Peele’s third feature, such a stand-out film: to begin, it sets (and maintains) a seductive mood that makes you feel a sense of unease and unrest, with the gifted director luring us into the quirky lives of OJ and Emerald and highlighting the fact that their business, Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, is a source of racial pride. And it’s those small details that he brings to the film that adds that depth, like suggesting that the African American jockey that appears for a few seconds was actually the great-great-grandfather of Otis Sr.

To really appreciate the value of a strong actor, look at the body language; Mr. Kaluuya is skilled in this mode of communication. Just remember his intense gaze. And Palmer puts her DNA (cell-by-cell) into her character, making her so lovable you forgive her need to talk non-stop. 

It would not be a Peele masterpiece if interesting characters weren’t also introduced, like Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star who now owns and operates a Wild West theme park called Jupiter’s Claim, and Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), a skilled techie and salesman at Fry’s Electronics who assists the Haywoods in setting up their surveillance system to record the alien spaceship that appears to have parked itself on their property.

What’s humorous is that the flying saucer looks like a big sand dollar, with a hungry intention. Naturally, OJ and Emerald decide to photograph it and sell this evidence to the highest media buyer possible, even toying with adding Oprah to the list. But their plan needs help, and they engage cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) to help capture everything happening on their property. 

Now, it’s not unusual for the brother and sister to mistrust white media. I offer that it’s one of their smartest moves. But the challenge looms—how do they get the visual evidence to the world and not get any authorities involved? 

The spaceship is almost like its own character, and if you look directly into it, well, you will get sucked into its membrane hole; and because this machine is “hungry” as previously mentioned, it sucks things inside even if they don’t look directly at it. 

There’s a lot that I could share but they would border on spoiling the film, which I will not do. That being said, there are some very disturbing scenes that would qualify this film as a horror, without question. One such in the film occurs in a flashback to Ricky’s ’90s cable sitcom, which turned into a horror set when the lovable chimp, Gordy, went on a bloody rampage. When the ship finally declares itself…we are all waiting and here’s where I will leave this review.

“Nope” will go down in cinematic history as one of Jordan Peele’s best works. This is a creative mind that loves to bring that level of chaos that forces internal and external conversation. 

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