Nope Is One Of The Best Horror Movies
Nope Is An Even Scarier Film Without Any Spoilers
I hope it’s clear how good I think Nope is by me actively not wanting to spoil anything. Usually, I keep these reviews as vague as possible about plot points, but I must be even more careful with this one. I’m even going to be using fewer in-context images to avoid spoilers. Learning information is part of this movie’s core experience. Nope is a film of sharp, interesting reframing of previous scenes that builds to a greater whole. The joy/terror often comes from the sudden understanding of context. And when it kicks into high gear at the middle point, it’s one of the scariest, most visually creative, unique-feeling horror scenarios I’ve ever encountered.
And this writing approach is endemic to the whole experience, not just the horror. There’s an impressive commitment to reincorporation. The technical term for this is “Chekhov’s Guns,” and Nope is made of them. Anything and everything can be an integral plot point. It’s amazing what details are secretly setups. And it does this in a way that doesn’t feel obscure or hidden. The cinematography ingrains everything you need to know in prominent sight and leaves a few additional details for rewatches and media analysts. This is holistic, tightly wound writing, and I was floored by how seamless it was.
The Foreshadowing Skill Is On Another Level Here
It’s also multi-layered writing. I’m almost sure half of the thematic throughlines the movie explores went over my head, but the ones I understood were fascinating. This is the most I’ll spoil here, but Nope has more to say about the nature of spectacle than most movies have about their main characters. What, where, and why we record, watch, and look at things is deeply ingrained into the film’s fabric—and it suitably delivers on that spectacle for its audience.
What I mean is this is a gorgeous movie with incredible VFX, scenery, and shot composition in both its horror and slice-of-life moments. If you can, see Nope on the biggest screen possible. I watched on a computer monitor, and even with that smaller aspect ratio, the sky scenes are awe-inspiring. The movie understands how to get across size and scope. The blue sky and white, puffy clouds are easy to get lost in. And then weaponized as that beautiful vista turns slowly, deeply, wonderfully uncomfortable. Even daylight scenes become tense once the horror is clarified. And those horror elements often look way, way too real. You can sometimes see the CGI seams, especially during Gordy’s extended sequence and the late-game sci-fi stuff, but other times the texture and detail are inconceivably well-done. Let me be clear: my jaw physically dropped. I flinched away from the screen multiple times. I had to pause because I was breathless from the tension. A certain bloody, rainy scene (you’ll know the one when you get there) made me want to declare this the best horror movie I’ve ever witnessed.
Nope Will Actively Make Viewers Afraid Of The Sky
But you know what else makes this movie great? It’s also remarkably charming. The sibling dynamic between OJ (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and Em/Emerald (played by Keke Palmer) is extremely realistic, and some of the movie’s final moments actively made me emotional. Good horror requires likable characters for us to worry about, and this cast does such a good job of bringing across that heart and familiarity. OJ’s scenes with his dad, with the horses, and his mounting annoyance with other people’s focus on, well, spectacle, make for such a strong leading character. And Emerald’s character should be talked about in writing classes with how many subtle details and quirks are sprinkled into her dialog. There’s never some breakdown of their history in some clunky expositional scene, but through sheer writing talent and acting skill, we know everything relevant that she’s been up to for the past few years.
This Movie Knows How To Get Across A Character
The side characters are also a lot of fun and support the theme. “Jupe” (played by Steven Yeun) and his western-themed show form the backbone of the dueling themes of spectacle and danger, as does—almost entirely in background details—Antlers (played by Michael Wincott) and his filmmaking. Pay attention to what he’s editing in some of his initial scenes. I would’ve liked slightly more personality details to justify some of Antler’s later actions, but there are still lots of interesting moments to unpack and consider. Then we have Angel (played by Brandon Perea), who’s a less complex character, but still deeply tied to the theme—and gets one of the more inventive ways to survive a horror scenario. He still has so many excellent, funny, and poignantly emotional moments I quickly was delighted whenever he showed up.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie with so little to complain about. Nope is so structurally, thematically, and emotionally dense and potent that almost every time I thought something didn’t fit, it still tied to the core ideas. But there are a few niggling things. I’ve yet to find a perfect movie. The first is something that’s basically a necessity in long-form horror but rings artificial here. Nope has to push a lot of buttons to make it plausible that the characters don’t just leave and never come back. There’s even a scene where the movie could’ve ended logically—and a short film likely would have. It even causes further ripples of unreality into the narrative. The characters seem way more comfortable with horrific danger than they should be. There’s such a high level of death and destruction in Nope that it’s almost immersion-breaking when a (very morbid) semi-joke about dead people happens later. Yes, these moments serve the theme, but not so much cohesion.
Nope Doesn’t Fully Stay In Its Cosmic Horror Tone
The second—and related—issue is this alteration in approach, this lessening of dread and panic, cuts the movie into three distinct sections. Part one of Nope is a slow-burn, emotional drama with a clear-but-yet-undefined supernatural bent. Part two is a brutal cosmic horror nightmare-fest with immaculate sound design (it somehow makes screams scarier than they already are) that blends metaphor seamlessly with real threats. And, finally, part three is a tense, but not nearly as atmospheric, sci-fi adventure plot. I respect that Nope understands once the audience is familiar with the horror threat, there’s no point trying to ring out hidden-information-based dread anymore, but it’s almost a hard genre shift. Only by that wonderful reincorporation and quite likable cast does it feel like the same film. All three parts are good—though I’m sure you can tell my favorite of them—but it is disjointed.
On the moment-to-moment side, there are three things to mention. I can’t tell if a plot line about Mary Joe’s (played by Sophia Coto) injuries was handled well or respectfully. There’s a scene with a praying mantis that grew a little stale and silly in hindsight. And a very abrupt TMZ reporter (played by Devon Graye) plotline shows up that utterly throws away any subtlety in Nope’s subtext. But that’s about all I can find. Nope is, overall, a horror and filmic masterpiece. It’s full of strong visual storytelling, impactful camera work, and has a fresh and interesting take on classic sci-fi tropes. If you can’t handle some on-screen and implied animal deaths, then maybe stay away, but I’d recommend this for literally any other horror fan. I haven’t seen them yet, but if Get Out and Us are of the same quality, I completely understand why Jordan Peele is so highly regarded as a horror director. Nope is scary without relying on cheap jump scares, understands the subtleties of dread and tension, and plays with information in award-worthy ways. If you haven’t already been spoiled, go into Nope with as little information as possible. If you have already been spoiled, watch it anyway. It’s an incredible, terrifying, thought-provoking spectacle.
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