Jordan Peele's Nope looks spectacular but fails to pay off its promise
NOPE (15, 130 mins) Sci-Fi/Horror/Thriller. Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Jacob Kim, Wrenn Schmidt, Keith David. Director: Jordan Peele.
Released: August 12
ACTOR and comedian Jordan Peele jump-started an urgent cultural conservation about interracial dynamics with his 2017 horror Get Out starring Daniel Kaluuya as a photographer, who foolishly agrees to visit his white girlfriend's family in upstate New York.
Peele collected an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and earned nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.
His dizzying success drew parallels to the meteoric rise of M Night Shyamalan in 1999, who was the toast of Hollywood with the supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense.
Shyamalan's third feature after Haley Joel Osment saw dead people was the muddled alien encounter Signs.
Spookily, Peele's eagerly anticipated follow-up to Get Out and Us is also a close encounter of the second-hand kind, imagining first contact with extra-terrestrials as a stand-off between species, captured on large format IMAX cameras by Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema.
Nope looks spectacular on a big screen, augmented with hypnotic visual effects that echo the grandeur of Arrival.
For the opening hour, Peele's script teases an otherworldly mystery, interspersed with unsettling flashbacks to a horrifying incident on the set of a family sitcom called Gordy's Home.
Alas, the writer-director mishandles the pay-off (like Shyamalan) and overloads a bewildering second half with ideas that lack cohesion.
Is this Peele's best work to date? Nope. Does the conclusion deliver satisfying thrills? Nope. Does the overall ambition greatly exceed a film-maker's firm grasp? Yep.
OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and ebullient sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) inherit the family's ranch – Haywood's Hollywood Horses – from their old man (Keith David), who is killed by debris falling from the sky.
The siblings struggle to keep the business afloat and honour a rich filmmaking legacy that dates back to one of the earliest examples of a moving image: English artist Eadweard Muybridge's series of photographs of a galloping horse.
OJ and Emerald proudly claim the black jockey depicted in The Horse In Motion was their ancestor.
The Haywoods are under pressure to sell the ranch to former child actor Jupe Park (Steven Yeun), who runs the Jupiter's Claim theme park on neighbouring land with his wife Amber (Wrenn Schmidt).
When all hope seems lost, the Haywoods discover an unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) hovering over their homestead.
The siblings approach electronics salesman Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and renowned cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) to help them capture lucrative footage of the otherworldly observers.
Nope has the scope and visual spectacle of a summer blockbuster including nightmarish scenes of humans and livestock being sucked into the air.
Kaluuya's taciturn performance contrasts with Palmer's boundless exuberance that injects energy at key moments when pacing reduces to a sluggish crawl.
If The X-Files was correct and the truth is out there, the proof is slippery and frustratingly elusive in Peele's film.