Jordan Peele gets a massive, beautiful payoff in going big with Nope

Jordan Peele is back with Nope, the follow-up to Get Out and Us, about an uncanny and chilling discovery in the Californian ranchland. Tony Stamp finds himself dazzled by what he saw on the IMAX screen.

If there’s one thing we should expect from Jordan Peele, it’s that he’s going to confound. Get Out and Us both housed dark secrets at their core, ostensibly silly ideas the director made horrific through technique and investment, much as he did on his sketch show Key & Peele.

Nope is no different. There’s a reason it’s been shrouded in secrecy, and its big reveal is the best kind: one that seems obvious in hindsight, but delivers a wonderful kind of cinematic pleasure, that of seeing a unique idea presented on screen for the very first time.

Before we get there though, Peele has several curveballs for us, starting with the film’s opening image. It’s incredibly unsettling, and left unexplained for a good while. When we learn more it only gets more upsetting.

The movie makes a lot of big choices like this, and they’re not going to work for everyone. If you thought the bunnies in Us were elliptical, know that Peele seems even more emboldened to confuse. Personally speaking it all got more cohesive the more I thought about it, as did the recurring imagery (another predilection of this director that’s only gotten bolder), and how it all ties into his thematic points.

Having said all this, if you’re just after some scares, laffs and spectacle, Nope absolutely delivers. Complaints about a baggy first half are baffling to me; I found the whole ride engaging and fun from the get-go (admittedly I have a huge soft spot for what-the-fuck-is-actually-going-on-here stories), and when the movie switches modes it pays off all its setup beautifully.

As usual, Peele is drawing on his favourite popcorn auteurs to great effect, and one scene in particular channels a distinctly Spielbergian sense of wonder, albeit with a twist nastier than the Close Encounters director would ever dare to attempt. It’s a masterful sequence, one that had this grizzled viewer experiencing that rare thing: sitting in a full theatre feeling genuinely terrified by what was playing out on screen.

A slight caveat here: I saw Nope in IMAX, and I can’t overstate how well it works in that format. I’m sure it greatly helped the immersion I felt, and that’s by design: Peele wants you to be searching the frame—literally watching the skies—and when that involves actually moving your head around to do so, it’s that much more enveloping.

He worked with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, whose IMAX bonafides include shooting Interstellar, Dunkirk and Tenet for Christopher Nolan. In other words, he’s the best in the biz. The aspect ratio changes throughout the movie, and the sequence I mentioned above is when it switches to its full, massive glory for an extended period. It’s really dazzling, and if at all possible I recommend you see it that way.

The fact that we’ve gotten this far and I haven’t mentioned the performances speaks to how many ideas Jordan Peele crams into his movies (and this one has a LOT of subtext to chew over), but they’re all great! Daniel Kaluuya in particular makes really interesting, unexpected choices—insular and grief-stricken isn’t what you expect from a blockbuster lead, but it totally works.

It’s awesome seeing a commercial director continue to cement his voice in a field crowded with pre-existing IP, and a big part of Peele’s appeal is his skill with the unexpected. Nope is hugely enjoyable on a surface level, and there’s tons to dig into on repeat viewings, but its main asset is how straight-up weird a lot of its elements are.

Goofy ideas sit next to scary ones (mention must be made of the incredible sound design in that regard), and horror sequences—and be warned there is some harrowing stuff in here—go alongside broad jokes, often coming when you least expect them.

Fans of spectacle can enter reassured. But also, if you like feeling that tickle in your brain, that experience of almost getting something but not quite, you’re going to love this.