Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Nope – a comedy-horror science fiction allegory about our relationship with spectacle

Science fiction is rarely about space or aliens. It tends to be a lens through which audiences can examine human behaviour and the vices which cannot be shaken off. And so Jordan Peele’s Nope explores our fascination with spectacle, whether we can bare to avert our gaze from the big, the shiny or the horrific before getting sucked in, chewed up and spat back out. Doctor Who viewers will be familiar with the danger of looking into the eyes of a Weeping Angel.

Siblings Emerald and OJ (Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya, always wearing something green and orange respectively) live in a rural ranch and supply horses to moviemakers. Their father dies when debris falls from the sky knocking him off his horse. Soon the adult children realise that their home has become a hotspot for unusual power fluctuations. Along with a friendly technician, Angel (Brandon Perea) from the local electronics store, and later an eccentric filmmaker (Michael Wincott) who specialises in capturing seemingly impossible shots, they try to wrangle their overhead nemesis and collect shareable evidence to prove what they’ve seen.

What level of proof is inconvertible? What risks would you take to capture something novel on film?

Spread over 130 minutes, Nope progresses from a hard-to-see animal worrier in the sky to a regurgitating creature that can be baited if you dare to suffer its rage. I’ll not spoil the details of what it looks like or quite how it behaves. Suffice to say, Nope isn’t terribly subtle. An APPLAUSE sign blinks above the evacuated audience seats in a flashback to a TV studio production that ran amok. A TMZ reporter lies injured on the ground worried whether his cameras have got the footage. The gonzo filmmaker wants to push beyond what’s necessary to get the best shot.

The allegory is well delivered, though the horror could have been a lot funnier, and the run time is seriously baggy. The jump scares pleasingly affect the characters on screen rather than the audience watching. Filmed for IMAX, my less flashy screening didn’t zoom in to remove the black bars at the top and bottom of the frame, which left the well-constructed shots smaller than necessary on the screen. The surround sound was superb in the ordinary cinema: the IMAX experience must be amazing.

Nope is being screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre and many other cinemas.

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