Nope (2022)

Screencaps from

When I was in high school, I used my local library system to watch movies that I missed out on. I found things like Sin City and the entire Indiana Jones collection. It was a way for me to learn about these movies in American culture that I never really got to see myself. My friends would talk about these movies and I wanted to know what they were talking about. I cultivated my taste for movies and explored the kinds of genres that I liked. In college, I did work-study at the library and I went to town. Every week I tried to pick a new movie for myself. I wanted to expose myself to classics like Akira Kurosawa's Samurai Seven and Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, and here was an easy way I could do it!

I have kids now and it's not so easy to do this regularly anymore. But still I try, and I'm really happy with the last movie I borrowed. I already knew I liked the team of Get Out (2017), so I knew I was going to try Nope (2022). I didn't expect to like it this much, and honestly there's so much content in the world that it's hard to slow down to talk about one thing, before moving on to the next. I'm purposely slowing down so I can talk about it.

The last time I felt this way about a movie, was probably Prey (2022) or Arrival. And if I really wanted to go back in time, The Fly. There's really a lot that the story is addressing, and it's up to you what you want to tackle. I really like Nope (2022) and if you like any of those other movies that I mentioned, you might like it too.

Spoilers follow for the rest of this post. If you think you'll like it, you will. So just go watch it and come back. You'll thank me later.

=================Last Warning=================

Nope is a Neo-Western sci-fi horror film, and I'm so happy that I got to type those words out. It really sneaks up on you, and 30 minutes into the movie I was still wondering just what exactly I was getting myself into.
  • What makes it a Neo-Western? It's about one poor family that's down on their luck, and their need to dig and strike gold. It's told in modern times so it's about their attempt to go viral and cash in on the mysterious UFO (UAP?) in their neighborhood before everyone else finds out.
  • What makes it sci-fi? There's a UFO.
  • What makes it horror? The mysterious UFO is more than it seems.

The movie starts with Otis Senior, a horse rancher and his son talking about their horses. Abruptly, a shower of debris falls from the sky and a falling quarter kills Otis Sr. His son, Otis Jr holds on to the quarter and we pick up 6 months later. Otis Sr and Otis Jr are the descendants of the Haywoods, the name of the jockey that appeared in the very first motion picture, Plate 626 from Animal Locomotion. In reality, this jockey was never actually credited, so we'll never know his name, but most jockeys at the time were Black, so this is a small creative liberty taken to highlight the truth of the exclusion of black contribution to American entertainment. It doesn't make things better that the UFO harasses the one black-owned farm in town either, but that's the movie. If you ask me, the primary theme of the film is not race, but rather spectacle, and they tell it to you upfront with the opening quote from the Bible:
“I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle” (Nahum 3:6)
The rest of the film is given to you as a way to make sense of that quote. The character of Jupe is a great example. He was a child actor on a 90s sitcom that employed trained chimpanzees as actors. There was a horrific incident one episode where a balloon popped and the chimpanzee went ballistic on the entire cast. Only Jupe survived the incident unscathed, with the others either killed or seriously mauled. However Jupe internalizes it, he's turned it into a business of sorts -- he holds the sitcom memorabilia in a secret room in his office and sells admission to it in his amusement park, "Jupiter's Claim," a Western-themed park. The show exploited an animal for spectacle, and the animal went awry. Since then, it has a devoted fanbase of people who will pay just to see that secret room, and now it's Jupe who's exploiting that spectacle. People just can't take their eyes away.

Because he survived the incident with Gordy, or despite it, he attempts to monetize the UFO. He turns it into a show in his amusement park, and as if to scoff at him, the UFO arrives earlier than he anticipated and shows him what it thinks. It consumes him and the entire audience. For misinterpreting their relationship, Jupe was punished. He misunderstood the animal and didn't give it the respect it deserved. This is in direct contrast to OJ, who quietly observes the UFO, keeps his distance and respects its rules of engagement. Like you don't look a horse in the eye, you don't look this thing in the eye. You can't engage it as a spectacle.

I love these amorphous shots of what you later find out to be the innards of the UFO. Initially, all you see is darkness, with corridors of light and unsettling sounds of pulsating, and later screaming. Most of all, the horror is the unknown. These shots were worth every second.

The Jupiter's Claim incident goes on the news and it becomes more urgent for OJ and his sister to film the UFO and, in a sense, avenge their father, before other people come to town to try to capture the UFO. They set up an elaborate plan with a Geek Squad UFO enthusiast and a filmmaker auteur.

They use what they know about the UFO -- the fact that it interferes with electromagnetic waves in its area, the fact that it gets indigestion from a specific thing, and they set a hilarious stage for the beast.

They save all the action for here, and it's great. It becomes a man vs. animal scene where the only thing man is trying to do, is survive and get the animal on non-electronic film.

There's a mood to the movie, an atmosphere that gives you this sense of dread. Initially, we don't really know what's going on with this giant UFO, only that it spooks the horses and sometimes you can hear screaming when it's nearby. The movie works really well at this feeling of suspense, climaxing in this amazing scene at an attempt to capture the UFO on film. The UFO reveals its true form, and I love the design here. 

When OJ does look it in the eyes, he's trying to save his sister and distract it. As if challenged, the monster inflates itself and reveals its ribboned mouth. It's haunting. It's beautiful. Later, when it sees a hot air balloon, it unfurls those ribbons and shrieks, as if to intimidate the air balloon. It's such a cool take on what a UFO could be.

OJ buys enough time for his sister to get a "final shot," and the film is realized with this final shot: OJ the lone man riding on his horse, still standing as the dust settles.

It's a great shot. It's a victorious shot, and it's a Western shot. He survived and now this time he gets to be the one to tell the story. He and his sister are the ones with the unique footage and they get to reclaim the story that was taken from their ancestors.

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