I went to see Nope at The Ritzy in Brixton. There were about 40 people attending the 17:30 screening, which had a special warning.
Before the start, there were many adverts encouraging young people to consider careers in the RAF, the Army, and the Metropolitan Police.
There were trailers for:
- Don’t Worry Darling, which looks like a Twilight Zone/Philip K.Dick knock-off and I reckon 50% likely to turn out to be occurring in the 21st century and not the 1950s.
- The Feast, yet another modern horror that seems to involve a woman constantly going in to trances in a fitted kitchen; quite likely the monster is something to do with mycorrhizal networks, which are the new big thing, and quite likely the climax involves cannibalism and/or humans being eaten from the insides by parasites.
- Surprisingly there wasn’t a crap British film on offer as well.
Nope starts with father and son Otis Haywood, working on their ranch, where they train horses to work in film and TV scenes. They are interrupted by a strange noise, the horses bolt suddenly, and lots of coins and other bits of loose metal fall from the sky, severely injuring Otis Snr, who dies in hospital soon after.
Six months later, OJ and his sister Emerald are on a studio set, trying to get some advert work done with one of their horses. Unfortunately the mare is panicked by the sight of itself in a mirror, and they lose the gig. The ranch is now in financial trouble, having to sell off lots of horses and under offer from the nearby scifi/cowboy theme park, owned by a young Korean who was a child star in a 90s TV show that ended abruptly after a chimpanzee became violent and attacked the human cast members during a recording.
OJ and Emerald notice odd things occurring and see a strange dark shape moving in the sky, at times that coincide with sudden but temporary electrical power losses, and panic amongst their stock. They realise the potential for getting compelling and good-quality footage of a UFO, and start arranging cameras around their house with help from a technical guy from a local big electronics store.
Daniel Kaluuya as OJ is constantly downbeat, low-volume, just a regular working guy worn down by all the nonsense of the past year. The film got no laughs from the audience, and was not trying for them, but there were plenty of moments that could have gone in to a sitcom about dead-end 20-somethings in the zero-hours economy, needing customers to give positive feedback whilst scowling about it. Like Stranger Things, there are parts that take in all the elements of 90s slacker comedy, but put them straight into a bigger story rather than wallowing in quotidian nothingness.
This film moves slowly for a long time, filling in lots of background for all the central characters – seemingly more than we need, although that heightens the mystery until the monstrous presence is more clearly present. When we finally see the entity, it starts as a flying saucer but later metamorphoses into a more amorphous being. It is never established if it is an extraterrestrial, I suppose it is just about plausible that strange species exist at the desolate edges of human societies. In the final stages it shifts forms and engulfs prey rather like a deep sea jellyfish or other kind of invertebrate very remote from human anatomy. Perhaps it has somehow been transplanted from a gas giant planet and so is able to swim around in the lower density, lower gravity fluid of the Earth’s atmosphere like a liquid ocean. No one mentions the Roswell Incident, but perhaps that was a dead example of the live predator here.
I would class this as “hard scifi” given the more exotic nature of the Other, and the slow realism of the non-heroic characters struggling to get by and maybe make a buck from what’s happening. There are many echoes of other stories. The scene in which a crowd of spectators in an auditorium are vanished into space reminded me of the final Quatermass series (probably an accidental similarity); the hunt to bring the beast into the open was reminiscent of Jaws; the flashbacks to life-changing early events were rather like Pulp Fiction; the appearance of a giant comic advertising figure at the climax was rather Ghostbusters, and this entire world is very much the underside of Hollywood/California as shown in dozens of non-genre films. The title sums up who these characters are: when OJ is stuck in his van and opens the door a little, to realise there’s danger outside, he says to himself “Nope” at the exact moment every wit in the audience would be about to say it if they were watching at home. Because he’s got the same outlook on this stuff, interpreting as far as he can from the films he’s seen, but having to deal with it curving off in a new direction.
I haven’t seen other reviews but I’m sure the consensus will be that it was too long and we didn’t need at least 30 minutes of material or the crucial plot points it conveyed could have condensed a lot more. Although some joins and jumps are a bit too quick or awkward (OJ works out an awful lot of vital points about the alien very quickly from some rather patchy data sets), it all pulls its weight. Jordan Peele is good at creating people in their own little worlds, and here he has a chance to paint in more of their biographies. If you want an example of something scifi-related that could do with trimming, then a better choice would be Trompe Le Monde. I’ve always thought it would be improved by axing “The Sad Punk”, “U-Mass”, and “Space (I Believe In)”, and I now think there was a missed opportunity to make “Palace Of The Brine” utterly preposterous. Make it 6 minutes long, have a full orchestra, a choir, put out a rumour that it was co-written by Prince. It should be at least as committed to its own ludicrousness as “Subbacultcha”, and go on like “Motorway To Roswell”. The music in Nope is more soul and R&B, planets that the Pixies never got to.