Death of cinema is a hot topic. People love lamenting the inevitable fall, or at least, the significantly lessening of movies attempting originality via innumerable mediums (Letteboxd, blogs, comments, social media and the ilk). Then there comes a maverick in the form of Top Gun: Maverick, which is heralded as the signs that movies are back (whatever that means). Where exactly were they gone?
Every opportunity a director takes to not work with or for a name brand studio is a point in the court of “real cinema” if that’s what you consider originality, completing ignoring that some of the best films every made are either short stories or book adaptations. There’s directors like Jordan Peele, whose latest outing “NOPE” boasts of being completely original but substantially borrows Spielbergian elements to tailor a full length feature film about a UFO terrorizing a small ranch in Agua Dulce, California. Originality is overrated, nigh impossible. What matters is what you turn your work in as.
Terror strikes the owners of Haywood ranch as they deal with a Not-Of-Planet-Earth phenomenon. In Jordan Peele’s world, much like early-days Shyamalan, the story takes a back seat to the atmosphere. The plot and characters are secondary to making your nightmarish scenarios come to haunt you on the big screen. Like his previous outings, Jordan Peele’s NOPE is a masterclass on setups and balancing the fine line between panic-induced sweats and comedy. You may not be happy with the overall result but the journey that takes you there can be broken down into bits and thought about as self-contained horror skits.
Which they technically are, given that Peele introduces each part of the story with its individual title cards. Linear story-lines don’t exactly offer any additional insight with title card treatment. There are times where you are left wondering whether there’s any deeper meaning to all this or is Peele symbolizing for symbolism’s sake. Apart from the explicit commentary on VFX cannibalizing the livelihoods of on-set professional animal trainers, the haughtiness of cinematographers, the subversion of the alien design trope, and the wrong lessons mortal men can take from their interactions with beasts, Peele will not handhold audiences throughout the nuance.
This creates a problem. With the amount of characters and their backstories being developed for a story this simple, you will be left wondering if there’s anything more to this story except from being directed and shot extremely professionally? This movie demands discussions rather than repeat viewings but in the end you won’t be as satisfied as you thought you’d be with either.