Few would have imagined that the Peele in Key & Peele, a show on MTV’s Comedy Central, would become a world-class director reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher. There is a sketch from Key & Peele, titled Town Hall Audience Member, one of the funniest outputs of the show, where Jordan Peele shows some promise as he acts entirely with his eyes to peak comedic effect. Other than that, at least to this author’s eyes, there is nothing to indicate cinematic genius or even a great acting turn.

And yet, the likes of Get Out, Us and, most recently, Nope exist to our collective surprise. All of them are horror thrillers, with first-rate plots, complex themes and fantastic direction that he has written and directed. They are original and show a sense of confidence and creativity we rarely see except with a few directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. He is like if M. Night Shyamalan ever managed to repeat the greatness of The Sixth Sense. Nope might yet be his best work, even though it has received a mixed reception compared to his previous movies.

The film follows siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em (Keke Palmer). They claim to have descended from the African-American jockey in Animal Locomotion, the first assembled photographs to become a motion picture in the late 1800s. Not incidentally, OJ and his father run a business handling horses from their ranch for studio productions.

A tragedy strikes when the sibling’s father dies through mysterious circumstances after an object falls from the skies. Em, previously uninvolved in the business, joins her brother after the incident but the two are distracted by strange events in the sky. There seems to be a UFO hidden in the clouds, with strange behaviours and appearances. They believe an opportunity is at hand. If, with the help of acquaintances, they expose the UFO through film evidence, it could be monetised and they would never again have to worry about money.

This one is the hardest to access out of Peele's previous movies. Unlike Get Out and Us, there is no theme centred on racial relationships – at least not as the main object of the film. In fact, it is pretty open-ended. Is Peele trying to say something about the film industry? Was making the UFO impossible to capture on digital cameras, instead of film, a commentary on the film industry and how it has lost its soul? Or is it about animals (the chimp, horses and UFO) and nature, and how our attempts to domesticate and profit off them backfire in our faces? Nope gives no easy answers.

Neither are the main questions about the plot answered. What exactly is the UFO? Where did it come from and why did it settle in that part of town? Get Out and Us give us plot exposition, detailing why what happened occurred, what drove those motives and why the villains acted in the ways they did. Nope is not as charitable. No plot catharsis. We are just left to wonder.

The peculiarity of Nope is intended; Peele is too bright for this not to be the case. This may be his least accessible movie to date but it is the most fascinating to re-watch. Very few movies are as obscure as they are endlessly exciting. Pulling such a feat takes a director at the height of their game. We have no idea exactly what is happening in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey but we find the mystery fascinating to explore. We do not know who killed the protagonist's wife in Christopher Nolan’s time-bending Memento, but we are still obsessively trying to figure it out. Nope is up there with the greats, and we will be talking about it for years and decades to come.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 17,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1168]

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