Finally, after over two and a half years, I went to the movies again, and it couldn’t have been a better homecoming than with Jordan Peele’s Nope.
The film tells the story of a remote horse ranch in the California backcountry called Haywood Hollywood Horses where strange things are happening. Clutter is falling from the sky, electronic equipment is failing regularly, and the horses are acting increasingly startled. It’s only when the ranch owners set up security cameras in the valley that they realize the real danger is lurking behind the clouds.
This rather simple premise is unfolding a mysterious plot that involves a Wild West themed attraction park and a rather disturbing sequence on a 90’s TV series set. But I don’t wanna spoil all the fun for you – the less you know the better!
Nope is a wild mix of genres, ranging from sci-fi fantasy to horror and even western adventure. But at its heart it’s a true love-letter to the old summer blockbusters and creature films of the 80s, although realized with state-of-the-art production values and meticulous attention to detail. The visuals by director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema are incredibly stunning, but the way Peele creates atmosphere solely through sound is absolutely mind-blowing. Especially the eerie night scenes are to die for! cannot stress enough that you better see this film in IMAX, because it’s a feast for all senses.
It’s not just about spectacle and exploitation though. Nope is carried by very nuanced performances and certainly does address sensitive topics such as grief, trauma or the addiction to sensation. Jordan Peele does this by injecting a lot of subtext and subtle imagery into his film, much more than one might initially assume. It’s definitely a film for people who like to decipher hidden messages and look for cross-references. But all of that is very well masked by the grandeur of the spectacle and the awe. Peele said, he wrote the script “at a time when we were a little bit worried about the future of cinema. So the first thing I knew is I wanted to create a spectacle. I wanted to create something that the audience would have to come see.”
As if that’s not enough to make you want to watch, there’s also the score from Peele regular Michael Abels. He clearly understood the notion behind the film and delivers a score that is seemingly effortlessly jumping between the works referenced above. Think of the action tracks à la John Williams or classical Bernard Hermann strings, or even – and this is particularly bizarre – old-fashioned Western themes of Ennio Moriccone. What a joy to hear new music like that in the year 2022!
But Abels also evokes (for the younger ones among you) memories of Marco Beltrami’s horror and James Newton Howard’s suspense moods. This wild cocktail surprisingly makes sense and, together with some very fine featured songs, also impresses on the soundtrack album as a wonderful listening experience. The last time I was unexpectedly blown away by a score like this was in 2015 with The Martian.