Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Stephen Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Keith David
Jordan Peele’s genre-straddling sci-fi horror western features some genuinely unnerving and eerie moments, but the muddled execution means it feels far less than the sum of its parts.
Daniel Kaluuya, who starred in Peele’s ‘Get Out’, is Otis ‘O.J.’ Haywood Jr, a taciturn wrangler who works for a family business, started by his late father, that rents out horses to Hollywood productions. We first meet O.J. on set, barely able to conceal his simmering resentment while dealing with the demands of a petulant and rude crew. Then his more outgoing and loquacious kid sister Emerald (Palmer) arrives and charms the crew with tales of how she and O.J. are descendants of the jockey that appeared in Edward Muybridge’s 1878 ‘The Horse in Motion’, the first ever motion picture.
One night, one of their horses jumps over the fence of its pen and flees. While trying to retrieve it, O.J. hears a crowd chanting, the noise coming from a distant floodlit field in what seems to be some UFO-related gathering. Things get progressively weirder: a nearby cloud formation remains completely static, and the siblings observe a black disc like object silently gliding through the heavens. Weary of getting the authorities involved, they recruit a recently-dumped tech salesman Angel (Perea) to help them record the phenomenon. Later, the gruff, jaded cinematographer, the splendidly-named Antlers Holst (Wincott) is recruited to film their findings. O.J. and Emerald’s plan is to sell the finished results to ‘Oprah’.
Also in the mix is Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star from a 90s TV show who now runs some ill-defined Wild West UFO theme park. Peele inserts intermittent flashbacks to Jupe’s fated sitcom where a tragic and horrific incident brought the show to an abrupt ending.
Viewers will wait in vain to find out how this ties in to the broader plot in a picture that’s high on spooky unsettling vibes but short on coherence, a collection of memorably-mounted scenes that don’t quite congeal into a meaningful whole. Kayuula and Palmer manage to generate some sibling chemistry, but we remain in the dark why there’s a certain froideur between them. In one sequence we see Jupe’s theme park performance disturbed by paranormal events, but it’s unclear what it would normally have entailed.
The picture boasts some gorgeous visuals, particularly cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s lovely rendering of the twilit Southern Californian skies, and the sound design is chillingly suggestive. Just a shame that this doesn’t add up to a meaningful whole.
Nope is released 12th August
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