Shawn O’Brate

After months and months of waiting for director Jordan Peele’s newest horror film, NOPE, the wait is finally over as it hit the Gem Theater this past weekend to packed seats and popcorn bags. 

With Peele’s first two directorial projects, Get Out and Us, being smash hits with new terrifying twists that have never been seen before, the hype around NOPE has been palpable since the first trailer arrived.

The film revolves around a brother, OJ Haywood, and a sister, Emerald Haywood, who are running “Haywood’s Hollywood Horse Ranch” in Agua Dulce, California which provides horses to local Hollywood films and shows being filmed.

Adjacent to the horse ranch is an amusement park, “Jupiter’s Claim”, which is like a small western town filled with wells, saloons, and a show featuring a former child star, Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park, played by Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Sorry to Bother You). 

By the twenty minute mark in the movie ‘Jupe’ and the Haywood siblings find something terrifyingly unnatural in the sky above them and their desolate desert homes, taking horses from both places and keeping eyes fixated on the clouds: a UFO.

But the paranoid, hyper-fixated Angel Torres, played by Brandon Perea (The OA, American Insurrection), quickly explains how they are not known as ‘UFOs’ anymore, but are rather referred to as ‘UAPs’ (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena). Torres also explains, factually, that UAPs have been the name ever since the Pentagon released all the information on them three years ago at the height of the COVID scare, making the news go by the wayside.

When OJ, played by Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther, Get Out, Judas and the Black Messiah), loses his father to a horrific, truly terrifying, freak accident–caused by the UAP–he and his sister decide to shift their focus from selling horses to Hollywood sets that are primarily using more CGI to getting the first real “proof” of aliens in the sky.

They go through a few different attempts with security cameras but when they realize that the UAP shuts down all electricity around and underneath it, the two siblings have to find a new way to get the shot that will make them millions and save their ranch. Meanwhile, at the park down the mountain, the owner and star of the show, Jupe, has other plans for the UFO that revolve around making him more money and notoriety with his park. 

Both plans backfire in their own way but both lead to massive twists that make this run-of-the-mill alien invasion film not so run-of-the-mill. In fact, with the way that Peele creates tension and legitimate, visceral fear through the quiet nature of the UAP–and the way he shadows old horror films to show the differences between the generations–this movie hits the audience like a ton of bricks. 

Peele, with the help of some excellent acting by OJ (Kaluuya) and Emerald, played by Keke Palmer (Hustlers, Star, Alice), creates a new fear that no other alien movie on the shelves has ever explored before. 

He creates this intense, strange, new fear through chapters based on the horses (and one monkey) that represent much more than just the animal and their story. And with the juxtaposition of the chimp, named Gordy, and Jupe’s story there is a fun backdrop for the final, climatic scenes between the main characters and their alien foe. 

The crash between the two stories of the film truly inspires and frightens all at the same time. Conjuring up a new movie monster, with its own set of values and pet peeves, takes an immense amount of courage and imagination–something that Peele has in spades–and it’s all on the plate in this movie.

Personally, the final ten minutes seemed to drag on a little long but it’s understandable when leaving the Gem Theater and reminiscing about the scope of the film. But, other than that, this movie hits every mark and will make any audience member, young or old, squirm in their seats and sit in their beds thinking about the possibility of NOPE being as factual as some of the things mentioned in the film (Pentagon papers, Naval exercises, etc.). 

With this newest film on Peele’s resume it’s hard not to take the man seriously when he puts his mind to a new project, whether that be the new remake of The Twilight Zone on Amazon Prime or his upcoming adventure-comedy Wendell and Wild.

Peele’s interweaving of the western genre, the alien invasion genre, and the pure horror genre mesh well together–something that has been nearly impossible up until now (just look back at 2011’s Cowboys vs. Aliens)–and it makes it even more outstanding of a film that demands to be seen on the big screen.

Overall score: 4.5 / 5 UAPs / UFOs