It doesn’t matter what you said you saw; we’re going to need to see those receipts. That’s the notion and takeaway from Jordan Peele’s latest flick, Nope, in theaters nationwide. Nope is currently leading the Box Office with an impressive $44M opening weekend as reported by its distributor, Universal Pictures. The story opens with a wild shot of a chimp, all bloody gummed, and thirsty for more, parading around a tv set that has been abandoned. The sound effects drive home the horror genre as the audience is thrown into a scene of Gordy’s Home, a Hollywood sitcom, where cast members have been beaten to death by the chimp. We only hear the quietness of the sound stage, the gaggled blood-filled breaths of a woman lying on the floor, and the pounding footsteps of the chimp walking about the set. It’s a very, what the fuck just happened, opening scene.
We then see one of our protagonists, OJ, and his father Otis, he’s OJ for Otis Junior, Peele does great work on keeping his characters unapologetically brown skin. You feel as though you are listening to a story from one of your neighbors who moved from down south years back. Otis is randomly killed by a foreign object being shot towards one of his eyes. The plotline says that a nickel randomly falls from the sky. The horse he was riding on, an all-white beauty named Ghost, was also injured during the freak attack, as we see a close-up shot of a key stuck in his rear. So, what or who attacked them? OJ is next seen at the hospital. Daniel Kaluuya is known for his sad eyes. It was that iconic stare that helped him helm his acclaimed role of portraying Black Panther leader, Fred Hampton. Bedside, we see an image of his father’s skull, signaling that he has died due to that freak nickel-in-the-sky injury. We flash forward to six months later, OJ holding onto a horse that has camera angle markings on it against a green screen backdrop.
This time, we find OJ out of sorts, appearing nervous as he tries to engage with the onset crew. He tells one of them that he can do the safety training with the talent and the horse once his sister Emerald shows up, she was running late. Keke Palmer portrays Emerald, a high-on-life, weed smoking, high-fiving, creative millennial from Los Angeles proper who is an avid Hollywood buff. She has the personality, the wit, and the bravado which become her tools for survival later on. She starts by telling the story of Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, and how her great-grandfather’s legacy of being the first jockey, Black or White, is how motion picture found its origins. This is our history lesson as Black filmmakers as well. The Horse in Motion was the first moving photograph using chronophotography which showed a galloping horse. The image is of a black jockey on a black horse. This technology would eventually be used to create cinema.
Back to the Haywoods however… OJ seems to be suffering from grief depression when he is asked to leave the set after a dangerous incident during the safety training. The horse kicks and hurts folks while on the set. The scene mirrors back to the opening scene of the chimp attack. The overall film is telling two stories simultaneously, one about humans being attacked by wild animals, and another about the significance of source energy and how different species engage with each other. As OJ, regretfully leaves the set with his own tail between his legs, we hear him humbly tell the production, “but we really need this”. The ranch is faltering. He had to in fact sell off some of the horses to his neighbor Jupe, the owner of a theme park named Jupiter’s Claim, and the sole survivor of the Gordy’s Home set massacre by the chimp. OJ tells Em that Jupe wants to speak to him about a business deal but only tells her to keep her at bay. At the office, Em recognizes Jupe has a lot of memorabilia which she asks to take pics for her IG with, which further pushes OJ to be annoyed by her. Em and Jupe recall the Gordy’s Home tragedy.
OJ finds his sister’s approach to people in her life as charmingly useful yet rudely distracting. OJ and Em, though from the same household have very different personality styles. Em is people-oriented and doesn’t particularly understand her brother’s vibes. She also wasn’t present during the death of their father, so her character presents lighthearted against OJ’s more somber persona. They do have an immense love for each other as seen on the first night Em stays at the ranch house but, they both have a different outlook on how they want to spend adult life. Money will make both of their lives better. As they drink, they notice the horses running outside of their stables, reacting to some type of energy presence that is invisible to the audience’s eyes. The lights also start to flicker in and out as well as the stereo system. OJ looks into the sky at a particular cloud, it was the same loud strange noise he heard moments before his father fell off the back of Ghost. Em is looking at the camera systems that surround the ranch to see if there’s an explanation for the outages or the noises but the cameras are off. As she turns, she sees a glimpse of an unidentified flying object just as the lights come back on fully. The next day the siblings’ plot to capture what they’ve deemed the ‘Oprah shot’ of the UFO to market online, an idea we saw brewing when Em walked around Jupiter’s Claim, reviewing how Jupe turned his ranch into a money-maker. He’s also high-key profiting off being the sole survivor of the chimp attack, showing the Haywoods his secret lair where he charges super rich people to spend the night. The room houses artifacts of the attack, like a bloody sneaker, worn by the actress we saw on the floor during the opening scene. In their pursuit to capture the Oprah shot, they enlist their local geek squad rep Angel, who seemingly flirts with Em but still finds other excuses to keep coming around.
He is also intrigued by what the Haywoods wanted the camera system for in the first place, more proof that curiosity is what killed the cats. The second night, as if the UFO senses it’s being “watched”, another horse is reacting to the changes in the frequencies at the same time Angel and Em are monitoring the cameras. A praying mantis is very meticulously blocking their view. Angel notices a strange cloud that hasn’t moved which we learn later, to be the home of whatever object it is that has inhabited the field near the ranch.
The following day, Jupe invites them over to his new live show entitled the Star Lasso Experience. He had already been using the same horses he promised to resell to OJ, as bait for the UFO. This scene lends itself to real-life events at parks like Sea World where orca trainers were put in danger and sometimes killed during a live show. There’s an eeriness to the scene. Jupe and his wife are trying to calm the audience but the sharp looks amongst the staffers are unsettling. The UFO shows up and engulfs everything except the colorful banners that were decorating the theme park.
It is clear that the flying saucer is alive and well. OJ, Angel, and Em realize that they need to think way out of the box if they were going to survive and get their Oprah shot. Em recalls a famous cinematographer who is notable for getting the most impossible shot. She rings him up but as he wasn’t initially convinced does not reach out to the Haywoods until the reports of what had happened at Jupiter’s Claim make headlines. The UFO is named after one of Haywood’s horses, Jean Jacket. This scene favors, the plotline of the film, King Kong. Kong was captured to be the main attraction in Times Square but escapes to freedom and then climbs up the Empire State Building. Why are these producers always trying to tame a beast for profit?
As the ranch is rigged and staged to fool the UFO into an action shot, more unforeseen events push the Haywoods further away from their Jean Jacket goal. The humans have the advantage of having surveyed the creature. They know what it dislikes and as OJ candidly states, whatever has a spirit can be broken. Jean Jacket morphs from a flying saucer-looking object into something resembling an angelic hot air balloon. As it tries to attack a released helium balloon shaped like a rancher, set free by Em, she remembers the ‘well attraction’ she had seen on her first visit to the Themepark. The coins from the park turn the analog camera on and Em is able to capture the phenomenon before it explodes.
As the debris starts falling, media reporters who were already en route to investigate the events from the Star Lasso showing see both Em and OJ, who is standing in the entryway of the park on a Black horse, in symmetry of their great-grandfather’s legacy. Now they have a new legacy to live by, provided by that same ranch. It is a generational sci-fi story for a current audience. Peele wrote the script and began shooting in the fall of 2021. The last film I watched in the theaters was the Joker movie back in 2019. Shot in iMax, the return the theater mood seemed to be in full spirit. The price was $25.00 plus tax, and I took my husband with me, so it was $50.00 plus tax. Streaming versus distribution to screens helped the industry navigate life at home. Many films that were made for the big screen went direct to stream, at home audiences received a watered-down cinematic experience. Now, in a post-pandemic world, Hollywood is using the results of Nope to see where the rest of their chips will fall. Black-owned films have routinely performed better at the box office with proof under titles like Black Panther and Girls Trip. Black-helmed storylines also performed better streaming-wise with proof from films like King Richard and The Harder They Fall. Nope movie is a great testament to say, film is not dead. Will you be going to the theaters to see it?