It's alleged online to stand for "Not of Planet Earth" but, according to writer/director Jordan Peele, that's a nope. The 2022 hit film features a pair of animal-wrangling siblings, a goofy tech guy, an old-school cinematographer, and the troubled manager of a roadside attraction.1 This disparate adult Scooby gang becomes embroiled in an otherworldly mystery out in the California desert.
It's a little reminiscent of Spielberg, except you don't want to look up in awe at the sky.
The engaging and truly bizarre mystery notwithstanding, the film works due to its deft direction and complex, perfectly cast characters. The interplay between Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as adult brother and sister trying to keep the business afloat feels authentic. Palmer, whose character spends a fair bit of the movie lit up, gets to shine finally in a way most horror-movie last girls would envy. Brandon Perea works as the oddball millennial techie, an entertaining blend of arrogant, technically brilliant, and intellectually shallow. The most quietly unsettling performance goes to Steven Yeun as "Jupe," a troubled former child star and roadside cowboy. Of the film's heroes, only Michael Wincott's cinematographer feels underdeveloped. I wouldn't want this film to run any longer, but I did feel that, given his importance to the finale, it might have been nice to know something more about him.
The story begins with a homicidal chimpanzee and ends with.... something that might be unknowable. Those trying to anticipate the solution to the mystery will also find themselves wondering what genre Peele has made this time. Is this an alien invasion film, a neo-monster movie, or a Twilight Zonesque message movie?
We're in an isolated location. The natural order of things has gone disturbingly awry. Mouse over for mild spoilers. Nope takes some once-familiar SF/horror tropes and recreates them with a contemporary and often subversive sensibility.
The blend of practical effects and CGI is perfect. While I knew that the effects in the sky had to be computer-generated, they look real. I missed, until I read about the film, how many other visuals had been created artificially.
Peele's visual style puts him among cinema's great directors. This one has been brilliantly filmed – in IMAX.
The movie raises a number of questions concerning such things as our tendency to turn everything into superficial spectacle, our culture's lust for fame and money at the expense of morality or even happiness, and the tendency for history to erase minority contributions. They're examined— particularly those that concern the first theme—but the movie focuses, as it should, on the characters and plot. Despite the first act's slow burn, the film should win viewers over on those elements, and on its own final-act spectacle.2
Director and Writer: Jordan Peele
Daniel Kaluuya as Otis "OJ" Haywood, Jr.
Steven Yeun as Ricky "Jupe" Park
Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood
Brandon Perea as Angel Torres
Michael Wincott as Antlers Holst
Wrenn Schmidt as Amber Park
Keith David as Otis Haywood Sr.
Devon Graye as Ryder Muybridge
Terry Notary as Gordy
Barbie Ferreira as Nessie
Donna Mills as Bonnie Clayton
Osgood "Oz" Perkins as director3
Eddie Jemison as Buster
Jacob Kim as Young Ricky Park
Sophia Coto as Mary Jo Elliott
Lincoln Lambert, Pierce Kang, Roman Gross as Park children
Alex Hyde-White as Grizz
Hetty Chang as Hetty Chang
Ryan W. Garcia as Sheriff Reyes
1. Peele and company filmed wherever possible on location, but you can visit a recreation of the Jupiter's Claim roadside attraction at the Universal Studios Theme Park. The actual set stood in the Aqua Dulce desert.
2. I was only put off-- mildly-- by the animal-name chapter titles. Whatever point they are supposed to make seems not worth interfering with the film's flow.
3. The son of Anthony Perkins, Osgood is an indie director in real life.
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