Nope: Jordan Peele's new horror film issues tornado watches and immediate warnings
Horror (particularly artistic or esoteric) movies set in amusement parks seem to be tempting ideas these days (remember “Nightmare Alley”)
Jordan Peele, known for dark comedies (Get Out and Us) built on the problems of racial sensitivities (maybe even “whiteness”) wrote and directed this rather bizarre horror spectacle, Nope. Although it’s artsy and rather A24-ish, it gets a full Imax release from Universal (rather than the boutique company Focus Features). I saw it at the 1 PM show at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA, light weekday audience on opening day.
Peele's production company, Monkeypaw (unfortunately reminding us of monkeypox, not intended) starts with a prelude where a young actor Jupe Park (Steven Yeun later as adult) witnesses a chimpanzee attack in 1998 (I wondered if this was part of the production company’s trademark).
In present day grandpa Otis Haywood and his son PJ (Daniel Kaluuya) maintain a horse ranch where they train horses for sale. Suddenly, Otis is fatally injured by debris falling from the sky (looking like huge hailstones or rocks). The film does not immediately take on the mystery of the incident as it might have (the exposition of this story circle seems a bit detached, rather like Tchaikovsky in his first Piano Concerto!) but rather focuses on OJ's business problems (his sister, Keke Palmer, helps run the place). He eventually has to consider selling the ranch to Jupe, who owns the carnival called Jupiter's Claim (there really exists such an attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, but apparently not Orlando, at least yet – I was last at Universal Orlando in 2015 and recall mainly the Harry Potter train). But in the mean time, he has connected with a tech guru at Fry's Electronics, Angel Torres (Brandon Perea), who is presented as a cleancut athletic white cis male, perhaps gay (in order to counter current cultural wokeness), to install equipment on the ranch to investigate power dropouts and occasional odd lights and sightings. The film has some effective scenes where a vinyl record player’s speed goes down during the power problems, creating rather microtonal music.
It's actually rather hard for the moviegoer to feel like belonging to this world, which seems cut off from reality. But the bizarre clouds and lights increase, and pretty soon obvious UFOs are flying over the place all the time, causing tornadoes to touch down and aspirate objects and animals, and posing a danger to people. The UFOs digest the food and spit out the waste, rather the way a jellyfish would.
At this point the plot seems to be about salvation for everyone, and an important element of the theme is getting an old mechanical camera to work and process pictures without electricity. At the end, this 135 minute film shows some imagination of effects beyond mine, at least.
The music score by Michael Abels offers a brisk concert overture during the closing credits, with a timber suggestive of Prokofiev.
For comparison, I could mention the 2010 horror film Skyline, from Universal (Greg and Colin Strause), where Los Angeles is invaded by alien ships at 4:30 AM, and where people are sucked up into alien ships and dissected alive.
(Comment sent to me on -Nope-: Sept 17: (1) "The very early clip of a jockey riding a horse, which Emerald claims features her and OJ's ancestor, is a real 1878 animated series of photographs, one of the first moving images ever, which has come to be called Sallie Gardner at a Gallop (1878). Sallie Gardner is the name of the horse; the two jockeys were listed as being named "C. Marvin" and "G. Domm." Neither of their identities are known, though they very well could have been black as Emerald claims. In those days many jockeys were black, such as thirteen of the fifteen jockeys racing at the first Kentucky Derby in 1875."
(2) There is a big difference between a circus and a carnival. A circus is more likely to have a 'geek'. The word carny is considered derogatory.