some spoiled thoughts on the power of spectacle – Film Stories

Whether you call them UFOs, flying saucers, foo fighters or UAVs, aerial phenomena have been a familiar sight in movies since the mid-20th century. Full credit at director Jordan Peele, then, for making such an old genrepI feel scary again; not since Encounters of the third kind, or the lesser known fire in the sky, maybe, the pebble-like alien vehicles felt really menacing (although it’s probably worth throwing into Denis Villeneuve Arrival here for their own ghostly presence).

It helped that Nope’s marketing gave relatively little. The trailers gave us a clue to the premise: the horse trainers OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and His sister Em (Keke Palmer) encounter something otherworldly floating above their californian remote ranch. What those trailers didn’t reveal, however, is just how utterly bizarre it is. Nope really is: as co-producer and writer as well as director, Peele gives himself the leeway to explore all sorts of sub-plots, visual non-sequences (where are they?) and abrupt shifts in tone and even genre .


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The prevalence of horror in 21st cinema of the century – aside from the superhero film, it’s one of the few genres that people come out of their homes to reliably see – means that scenes of violence and extravagant gore is commonplace on the big screen these days. What is less common are really unpredictable movies, like Nope – where, just as you feel like you’ve settled into its wake, the narrative swerves in another direction with a lurch of the stomach.

Nope could perhaps be described as a collection of oddities of the UFO tradition; sometimes looking at it feels like flipping through a copy of the Fortean times. Peele crams just about everything imaginable into his story: at the start, coins, keys and other metal objects rain down from the sky, seemingly at random, echoing real world reports strange weather phenomena.

Later there is what at the beginning aseems like a textbook case of alien abduction. Jhere is the cattle mutilation (although UFOs seem to be more interested in cows than horses in real life). There are also hints of UFO-adjacent phenomena like lenticular clouds and weather balloons, with the object flying in Nope looking at surprisingly inflatable in some places.

Then there’s this third-act twist: The UFO isn’t a spaceship, but a sentient creature that just happens to have chosen the area. around JO and Em’s ranch as a hunting ground. It’s here that Nope tips from Close Encounters to a monster movie, Where from ufology to cryptozoology, as the remaining cast try to avoid being eaten – and take a potentially lucrative picture of the thing try to eat them.

And as an unnamed photographer shows up on a motorcycle — apparently from TMZ, according to a character outburst — we might wonder what Peele is trying to say here. Certainly, Nope lacks the clear subtext of get out (racism, subtle or not, in liberal white America) or We (an exploration of class division through the lens of a middle-class black family).

That’s before we’ve even mentioned Gordy, the chimp who went nuts on the set of a low-rent sitcom in the mid-1990s, leaving one child actor horribly disfigured and another traumatized for life. In the present, the latter grew up owning a Wild West-themed theme park. Never mind Fortean Times – it’s the kind of story that sounds like it’s ripped straight from the cover of The National Enquirer (it is also possible that the chimpanzee incident was Actually based on real life). So what is it?

Daniel Kaluuya on horseback in Nope

About Debra D. Johnson

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