There’s a very old cartoon that shows aliens coming to earth and positioning themselves in front of a bin, vending machine or parking meter and announcing ‘Take me to your leader’. That very basic gag is at the centre of Jordan Peele’s sci-fi action movie Nope, in which, vague spoilers but you can see most of this in the trailer, aliens mistake a number of man-made creations for life, and promptly gobble them up, leading to wild bouts of indigestion.
It’s the aftermath of just such a close encounter that kicks things off; OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) watches as a hail of random objects descends on his remote farm, and one kills his father (Keith David). OJ takes over the running of the family business with his sister; they prepare and train animals for use in films. where they meet Jupe Park (Stephen Yuen) who had a previous run-in with a wild chimpanzee that was startled by a popping balloon into a murderous rage. Meanwhile back at the ranch, OJ feels that alien creatures may be watching, and sets about figuring out how best to take a photograph of them, an elaborate process involving a ego-centric film-maker (Michael Wincott) and a number of these air-powered ghosties things you see outside car-dealerships.
We’re not dealing with smart alien mega-brains here, more like a primal force that only wants to eat; it chows down on a wooden horse, the aforementioned ghosts, and eventually a giant inflatable mascot, none of which it enjoys. This is all as silly as it sounds, a Twilight Zone episode, perhaps, but hardly material for a 2 hour plus movie. Yet Peele has the right touch for this, and while it’s weird and wacky, it’s also curiously gripping; even an early fake-out with kids messing in OJ’s barn has more menace that most alien movies ever provide.
Nope takes its name from OJ’s reaction to seeing aliens encroaching; it’s a flat denial of an unpalatable reality. Oddly enough, audience enthusiasm seemed to go the same way for Peele’s film, which was front-loaded with adoring reviews and big box office, but trailed off badly once it became apparent that there was no Get Out or Us style twist. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, it’s a good Saturday night entertainment, but perhaps more was expected from a writer-director whose name has become an established brand.