What happened, Jordan Peele? GET OUT, with its mix of horror, social commentary, and comedy, was a full-blown masterpiece, and US—although not quite brilliant enough to get away with some of its more fanciful plot elements— was wildly entertaining. But NOPE, which shows Peele (for the third time in a row) pulling triple duty as writer, producer, and director, displays such a huge drop in quality it seems like the film was made by someone else. This is not a case of, “Well, he’s only made three movies, so obviously one of them has to be the third best.” This film is just… bad.
Despite having a fantastic cast led by the quietly intense Daniel Kaluuya and the charming Keke Palmer, NOPE is a lifeless, boring slog lacking in tension, horror, and— perhaps most crucially— the wide-eyed Spielbergian wonder Peele and his Director of Photography Hoyte van Hoytema seem particularly keen to reproduce.
There are plenty of reasons to like NOPE, which many critics have hailed as another Jordan Peele masterpiece. It features some genuinely chilling imagery: an ominous shape in the clouds; a scarred face underneath a wispy shawl; mysterious figures in the dark; a house drenched with blood. It also makes effective use of jarring flashbacks which are more quietly horrifying in what they don’t show than in what they do. And unlike many big-budget films of late, this one actually has a lot to say. What other horror thriller would dare tackle, with varying degrees of subtlety, such disparate topics as society’s obsession with fame, the exploitation of animals, and our crippling dependence on technology?
Sadly, in my opinion, the parts do not make a cohesive, satisfying whole. The character interaction (except for the brother-sister stuff between Kaluuya and Palmer) doesn’t feel genuine. The scenes, particularly in the first half of the movie, feel disjointed, uninvolving, and lacking in forward momentum. Keith David and Wrenn Schmidt, both amazing character actors, are criminally underused. And why is the main chase scene scored as if it were a cowboy comedy from the 70’s?
But the worst offender of all is the big thing in the sky which is the central threat of the film. It’s difficult to go into more detail without resorting to spoilers, so suffice it to say that so much about that mysterious thing is either inconsistent or just plain dumb. (For example, although it usually strikes quickly, it demonstrably takes its time when attacking the leads, presumably to give them a chance to escape.) At one point in the second half of the film, when Michael Wincott’s awesomely named character Antlers Holst says the immortal line, “How exquisitely stupid is that?” I know exactly how he feels.
As I sat through the overlong film— is there any other kind these days?— I kept thinking to myself, “Why does this all seem so familiar?” I went through the various elements in my mind: Established horror director. Big Hollywood budget. Great actors. Interesting ideas in a bad script… And then it hit me: This is an M. Night Shyamalan movie!
Sadly, that is not a compliment.
(2 out of 5 stars)