‘Nope’ abducts audience to alien landscape

Aliens return to Earth via an organic UFO and wreck havoc on Hollywood players who mistreated animal performers in Jordan Peele’s “Nope.”

Okay that’s a bit of a stretch yet it accurately sums up the world that Peele creates. A world where the term UFO has been replaced by the acronym UAP because the phrase Unexplained Aerial Phenomena is just too darn confusing for people to remember or understand.

These aren’t aliens that are the size of little kids with big heads and big eyes. (Although there is a theme park in “Nope” where Old West recreations go hand-in-hand with alien cosplay.) These are aliens that manifest their otherworldly chicanery in blood curdling ways.

As the lead character in “Nope,” Daniel Kaluuya works in the film industry renting horses and his animal whisperer skills. In the opening scene Peele establishes thats chimpanzees never liked “Lancelot Link.” Subsequently Kaluuya watches helplessly as a film crew ignores his warning to make eye contact with his steely colt and the horse kicks in self defense.

Keke Palmer plays his sister, who herself considers horse wrangling a part time job. Kaluuya and Palmer join forces to document what they believe is a UFO that’s been hovering around their scenic horse ranch. Steven Yeun, himself a former child star, runs the theme park just over the hill. Add a Fry’s Electronic geek squad technician (Brandon Perea) whose helping outfit the ranch with security cameras along with a director of photography (a gravel voiced Michael Wincott) who owns his own hand-crank IMAX camera and you have the perfect UFO hunting quintet.

Peele blends his narrative with seemingly ambiguous threads such as a sideways flashback to Yeun’s television show or the way Kaluuya’s horse is replaced by a toy horse on wheels. Yet when you look back on “Nope” after having experienced it the threads are tied together in a nice bow.

The real Fry’s shut down their nationwide chain in 2021 but Peele managed to shoot on location at a former Fry’s in Burbank that was designed with a UFO crashed into its front entrance. The movie UFO itself seems like something a chef would device in a kitchen. One time it looks like a flying chalupa with an orifice underneath but later is seems to grow and disburse in every direction at once like a cosmic expanding souffle.

Some articles have claimed that “Nope” borrows liberally from films like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” or “Jaws.” While there are genre similarities those comparisons are misnomers. One character wraps himself in barbed wire to prevent being sucked up by the UFO and that reminds of a scene from Argento’s “Susperia.” Suffice it to say that Peele does pay homage to select movies while keeping his story original and fresh.

Wincott’s character is seen talking from his home while editing some film on a Steenbeck editing table, which was an industry standard before the introduction of digital non-linear editing. For some viewers they would think it’s as antique as a rotary telephone. Also the chimp is named Gordy. There was a Miramax film from 1994 about a talking pig that was titled “Gordy.”

“Nope” has the sense of every department working at jet fueled momentum. The photography of Hoyte Van Hoytema captures nighttime ambience like you’ve never seen, even in Michael Mann films.

The music of Michael Abels blends ethereal sounds with mystic tempos. The ambient tone of the scored soundtrack contrasts to a few pop songs heard throughout like “Walk on By” and “Sunglasses at Night.”

Costuming by Alex Bovaird incorporates casual ranch wear with a really cool Jesus Lizard tee shirt as well as an orange crew hoodie from “The Scorpion King.”

“Nope” contains no false moves and positively radiates in its own unique atmosphere. Expect lots of return visits because films this exciting demand a second watch.

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