Film Corner: Nope

Note: I recommend watching this movie without reading my review first. It's so much better, I think, if you go into the viewing experience for this film not knowing anything about it. It's a scary movie, yes, but not a jump-scare movie, if that makes sense. As far as content warnings go, there's some pretty graphic animal death and animal violence.


We're going to watch NOPE tonight, which I've been looking forward to as a big fan of Jordan Peele's GET OUT, and the previews for this looked amazing. I think that was back when we still went to theaters, in the Before Times, before covid. All I know about this one is that it has aliens and occurs on a horse ranch. Sort of like SIGNS, but with a Black family instead of Mel Gibson? I think we can all agree that's an improvement. "The residents of a lonely gulch in inland California bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery."

As always, there will be spoilers!

The movie immediately opens with... a dad giving a clock as a birthday present to someone who can't tell time. Someone named Gordy. I don't really understand this- oh, shit. There's sounds of violence and a chimpanzee wearing a blood-soaked sweater and... an obscured human body? I am currently wondering if I started the wrong movie. Is there another NOPE that I don't know about?

Ah! Here are horses. A Black man is feeding them in their stalls while a radio cheerfully warbles the local news: a group of hikers are missing. The man goes outside to talk with his father about the horse they're training; they want to pick up a contract with a movie and then all their money problems will be over and they won't have to sell off any more horses. The younger man is giving me strong autistic vibes and I love him.

While the younger man is using his cellphone to call his sister, his phone suddenly goes dead along with the horse-walking machine. There's a strange distant screech and suddenly... metal? bullets? start raining down around the two men. Something hits the dad and the young man rushes him to the hospital, which I'm guessing is probably pretty far away. Oh no. The dad is dead, and a... nickel, like a coin??, went through his brain. There's a house key in the flank of the horse he was riding. What the actual fuck?

Credits. Ah! Our young man has a name: OJ. He and the horse are in front of a green screen and they both look deeply uncomfortable to be there. We learn that the death was 6 months ago and "a bunch of random shit fell out of a plane". The film people are crowding the horse and I'm deeply upset now; I took riding in college and there's about a billion safety tips that they're completely ignoring. OJ is trying to tell them about the safety situation, but he's definitely autistic: he can't look them in the eye and stares at the ground while speaking. He says his sister should be here to give the safety lecture for him.

Sister Emerald shows up just in the nick of time and gives a really great spiel about the history of their farm and the first motion picture being a 2 second clip of a Black jockey on a horse; he was their great-great-great grandfather. Her safety lecture is... to avoid loud noises. That's not nearly enough! She then segues into promoting herself and her side gigs, then rushes off and leaves OJ to be crowded by the people. The horse spooks and kicks a makeup bag into the green screen wall, and the Haywood Horse Ranch is fired in spite of really needing this gig. OJ is crushed as they wheel in a fake green metal horse.

Em demands a ride back to the ranch. OJ is frustrated with her (as are we!) for caring more about promoting herself and her side gigs in a safety lecture than in covering basic stuff like "don't approach the horse from behind" or "don't shove things in the horse's face". OJ has to stop off at a western theme park to sell Lucky, which clearly breaks his heart. He plans to buy the horses back and promises Lucky he'll come back. Ouch.

The theme park owner is a grown-up child star who got his start in Westerns. He and OJ talk about the horses and the ranch while Em fangirls about Jupe's childhood stardom: he was, among other things, in a television show with a trained chimpanzee until the animal was provoked and killed some people. Shit. Em asks him for details and Jupe has to rely on retelling an SNL sketch based on the event; he's playing it cool, but it's clearly too painful for him to relate the real experience. Wow.

The siblings get back to the ranch. OJ has to work and Em doesn't want to help. I get that she doesn't live here anymore but like... horses have to eat and OJ needs help. I feel like I'd be more sympathetic to her carefree all-play-no-work attitude if we weren't talking living creatures that need to eat and not be startled. And if we weren't talking about her brother who *needed* that movie gig she messed up by being flippant and not giving a proper safety lecture, and who probably *needs* a break and some help if he's been handling all these horses on his own for 6 months since their dad died. I want to send him for a spa day.

This is a really long movie, I'm noticing. 2 hours and 10 minutes. You can tell it's long in moments like these, but it's okay? There's a lot of good character building moments and establishing these two. Ahh. Dad had promised Em that she could train a horse of her own, but then went back on his promise because a good movie deal had come along. (The Scorpion King, oh dear! I'm old enough to remember that one.) It becomes a little clearer why Em is so hostile to the horse ranch and to the idea of helping her brother out, if Dad kept shutting her out and breaking his promises to her.

Em interrupts the conversation to ask why Ghost (one of their horses) is in the arena. OJ goes out to collect the horse and Em ruins all the goodwill she just built up with me by blaring a music record at the highest possible volume. The horse is startled--they don't like loud noises!--and runs off while Em drunkenly hollers "where he going?" (Away from the music!) OJ drives out to find the horse and hears Ghost making territorial noises. The theme park in the distance loses power... and Ghost *screams*. A horse scream is a terrible thing, if you've never heard one before. Then something moves in the clouds, a fast jerky streak of a movement that clouds can't make.

The siblings go to Frys Electronics to buy video surveillance equipment, hoping to cash in on the alien sighting that they've decided this has to be. They seem pretty chill about the missing horse that was last heard screaming in the distance and has not returned. Like, even if you don't care about the horse emotionally (and OJ clearly does love his horses), that's a huge investment slash revenue stream they just lost. I'm not sure how many horses they own in total right now, but it can't be more than... 3 or 4? So I definitely understand wanting to monetize the Backyard UFO, but I feel like I would be more... jittery?

An employee named Angel checks them out and I love him instantly. He laughs quietly when they turn down installation help for the complicated cameras they're buying and they realize that, uh, this stuff might be harder to setup than they thought. I love him. I would die for him. I don't know how to explain it; he just has this quiet comedic genius as he explains that cellphones don't just... lose power unless "you're in a UFO hot spot". Angel comes out to install the cameras and is patient while OJ asks him to point a security camera straight up at the sky. He references the fact that UFOs are called UAPs now, revealing that he's an alien-believer and safe for OJ to confide in. OJ declines to confide. (He's so autistic and I love him.)

Em pulls up to the ranch with a plastic white horse covered in bright flappy-in-the-wind flags. Did...did she steal that from the theme park? Angel asks if the fake horse is "bait" and Em insists that it's "a decoy for horse training." Angel, bless his heart, does not believe her but doesn't push the issue. Jupe drops by to say hello and notes in a friendly way (maybe low-key suspicious? maybe not?) that his theme park "has some of those" fake white horses. Angel looks so nervous. "Okay! Thanks for stopping by!" he hollers, trying to get Jupe to leave. "You don't live here!" Em shushes him. Angel defends himself by saying, "I was trying to help!" I LOVE HIM. Jupe drops off a flier for a "new live show" he'd like them to come see. Angel finishes up the install and offers to monitor the feeds remotely for them, but they decline while promising to give him a good review with his supervisor.

Night comes and OJ is inside the house when the barn lights come on. Strange. He goes out to turn off the lights and walk out, but the lights... flip back on. And there's thumping. And something is moving in the dark and squeaking and NO NO NO NOPE. Little people are following OJ as he backs out and/or tries to capture a cellphone picture of whatever the fuck these little guys are. THIS IS LIKE SIGNS ALL OVER AGAIN, BUT WORSE. Fuck fuck fuck NO. Wait, WHAT? One of them jump-scares OJ and he punches it as a reflex and it's a KID in a COSTUME. They're from the theme park and I guess they know about the stolen horse. Christ.

Angel! I was afraid we wouldn't see him again! Back at the Fry's night shift, he decides to monitor the security feeds anyway even though they declined his services. He really wants to see that UFO for himself. After a praying mantis jump-scares Em, Angel calls her to say that there's a bug on Camera A blocking the feed... and Camera B is down. Like, aliens-in-the-area down. Oh shit.

OJ is out in the field bringing back Clover (which the little kids in aliens costumes released from her barn as a prank) when Clover panics and takes off. The horses still in the barn are going nuts. Meanwhile, the white statue is pulled vertically up into a cloud and the little flags just... dangle out of the bottom of the cloud like a little tail. OJ books it for cover in the barn. (God, this is GOOD night-filming. I can actually see what is happening, which is very much appreciated!!)

Camera A is still on but with a bug covering the lens. Everything else is out, power-wise. Clover is running around in a panic. The cloud is following Clover in a way that clouds cannot do. Then a dust storm whips up and Clover just... ascends. IN A WAY THAT HORSES CANNOT DO. This is legitimately creepy, I am so goddamn creeped out. What the fuck, what the fuck, why are aliens kidnapping anything horse-shaped.

Em is thoroughly rattled and wants to leave; this isn't worth any kind of money. OJ tells her, gently, that she can go if she wants as he's got to get up early and feed the horses. I love this autistic man. Em is frustrated (she wanted *both* of them to leave) and stalks out. We get a flashback of OJ when he was younger and Dad was observing Ghost neighing and "acting all territorial out there. I guess some animals ain't fit to be trained." Not sure what this is meant to signify, but it's Jordan Peele so it means SOMETHING. Maybe it ties into the chimpanzee and how you really can't train them for television because they can still get set off and violent way too easily? Some animals are inherently dangerous?

We cut to one of my favorite voices (Michael Wincott; THE THREE MUSKETEERS, ALIEN RESURRECTION) who Em remembers from the commercial filming earlier. Em has looked him up and discovered that he's a famous documentary photographer that specializes in dangerous shots. (We see him editing footage of prey animals attacking each other.) "There's something out here in Aqua Dolce and you're probably the only person in the world who can get it on film." Antlers, for that is his name, is giving off intense depression vibes and tells her that the dream she's chasing isn't going to end how she thinks, then hangs up. I want to hug him. He feels like an astronaut who couldn't get back to space... or never got to space in the first place.

Angel pulls up in his van and stares at the sky. There's a cloud over the mountain ridge that never moves, no matter how much the clouds around it travel. They have video evidence now that something isn't right, but it's isn't proof positive. Angel asks if the alien spaceship is inside the cloud, but OJ says it doesn't move like a ship and maybe it *isn't* a ship.

We cut to Jupe's childhood television show during the terrible episode in which the chimpanzee attacked the crew. It's the chimp's birthday and a popped balloon sets him off. He beats and bites the young girl who plays Jupe's older sister while a terrified Jupe hides and watches from under a table. "Gordy", now covered with blood, nudges the girl's shoe to tell her to get up, not understanding that she's injured because of him. He crawls over to where Jupe is hiding and slowly offers him a fistbump, their signature move. Jupe is in the process of trying to return the fistbump when the chimp is shot by responding officers. (Note: Kissmate says this part is accurate; apparently you can't tranquilize chimps because the dart will just set them off again and they'll hurt more people before the drugs can take effect.)

The flashback cuts to Adult Jupe spacing out in his office as he remembers the traumatizing memory. I wish I knew what young Jupe thought about that last moment. Did he realize that those responding officers saved him? Or did he think that Gordy would have spared him because of the fistbump? Jupe has so much interiority which is kind of closed off to me because he doesn't talk about his trauma; it's great in terms of making the character intriguing but it makes me long for a novelization that really gets into his head. His wife is prepping him and herself for the "new live show" they've been talking about all movie.

At the ranch, OJ notices the "new live show" flier that Jupe left behind and walks off saying that he's going to go get Lucky from Jupe. His financial situation hasn't changed but maybe he's hoping to warn Jupe that aliens are kidnapping horses in these here parts and that Lucky needs to come home in order to be safe. Down at the theme park, Jupe is outside warming up the crowd: he introduces his wife, and the co-star that was savaged by the chimp. She's alive! She's here in a motorized chair, wearing a veil over her face and a sweatshirt that I think shows her childhood character on the front. Oh, that's... emotions. I have them. But it's so sweet of Jupe to include her. You have to think a lot of folks dumped her after that like a hot potato.

Jupe explains to the crowd that "in an hour you'll leave here different". He says that every Friday for six months he and his family have "bore witness to an absolute spectacle". On the first night he came out here to wrangle a chestnut horse named Trigger and he saw a flying saucer descend through the mist. The horse took off through the mist "like he was going home" and... I guess was taken up into the saucer? Jupe thinks they are being watched by an alien species he calls "The Viewers". (My god, the viewers. He's a childhood actor. He's spent his whole life being watched from the outside by people he can't directly interact with.)

But I'm confused... has he been feeding them one horse a week for 6 months? That's at least 24 horses! OJ didn't have that many to sell and I don't think he would have sold them without asking questions as to why Jupe needs so many and how come he never sees them working at the theme park. Has Jupe been buying up horses from other ranches too? That's the only explanation I can think, is that he's been buying from multiple sources. Has Jupe questioned why The Viewers only collect horses? But, no, he's a child actor; he's never really understood the viewers before so why should he now! When he was a kid they wanted to see a chimp, now they want to see horses; his job is just to give the people what they want. Oh god, I want to give this man a hug and shake him at the same time.

In the sky, the cloud descends with its little dangling flag-tail. (It reminds me of a fish in a tank swimming around with a little poop-tail and not caring.) The cloud roars and comes closer to the park and its audience. Jupe opens the cage he's had custom-made for the horse, intending for him to run to the cloud, but Lucky is refusing to budge from his safe little glass cage. Jupe's wife, a natural show-woman, reassured everyone that "trained animals can be unpredictable." YES, MA'AM, THAT DOES SEEM TO BE A THEME. All eyes train up on the sky and the camera pulls in tight to Jupe's face. A dust cloud swirls up around him, the screams begin, and we see the shadows of people being pulled up. MY GOD THIS IS TERRIFYING. That is so much scarier than a long lavish CGI scene would have been.


OJ arrives at the theme park while the automated system tells everyone its closing time and they all have to leave, but no one is here. The place looks like a tornado hit it, with statues knocked over and a befuddled pig on a rooftop. Lucky the luckiest horse is still hanging out in his glass cage, chilling and pondering the nature of humans. OJ calls softly to the horse while watching the sky for- what is that popping sound??! Why are people screaming in the sky? THE UFO RUSHES OJ AND TRIES TO SUCK HIM UP THROUGH THE STANDS but he's okay because he was too thick to suck through the stands. Thank god. He wakes up at night with Lucky watching him. Best horse.

Back at the house, Angel is done setting up protective tarps against the incoming storm. His van plays "Sunglasses at Night" and I still love him. I just needed you to know that. Em puts in an old video of her Dad doing the same spiel she made earlier... oh bless. She memorized it from him. OJ calls Em and says he was right; it isn't a ship, it's alive, it ate them, it's an animal, it's territorial, and it thinks that this is its home. The electrics die. Angel rushes in, grabs a knife from the kitchen block, hisses a warning "we're in trouble" at Em, and takes cover under the kitchen table. I LOVE HIM. This man survives horror movies.

Em is freaking out in the dark house while we hear screams overhead. This is the scariest thing I've ever seen in any movie ever. The sky opens with a deluge of rain but it's... there's screaming and I think the rain is blood. Inorganic material start falling from the sky, just like the keys and coins from the beginning! And oh god there's chunky red stuff coming down the windows and the screams have stopped unless you count my own. How many haunted house movies have I seen and a fucking UFO pissing blood all over a house is the scariest damn thing I think I've ever seen.

OJ sticks his head out a tiny tiny bit from his truck and sees the thing overhead with the flags still dangling out of its asshole. WHOA. The horse statue comes straight out and down into OJ's windshield and we hear a few more ominous pops. Morning comes, I think, and the Fry's van flares back to life. OJ calls Em and Angel out to the van as the alien draws closer and... oh! Eye contact? OJ has a realization and drops his eyes as the alien menaces him. The others jump into the car and they drive off as the system wails "I wear my sunglasses at night" and boy if that isn't a spot-on music choice for this moment.

The news reports on the disappearances at the theme park in Agua Dolce and Antlers quietly turns off the project he's working on, realizing that Em wasn't pulling his leg. Meanwhile, OJ: "I don't think it eats you if you don't look it in the eye." I swear, only an autistic animal trainer would pick up on the eye contact thing. I love him. I love him so much. OJ says that every animal has rules and they know what it wants and when it comes. In the meantime, he's got to go back and feed the horses. He heads back with sunglasses this time.

The house is now stained pink with blood and Antlers is waiting for them. OJ explains that Jupe made a mistake by trying to tame a predator when all you can do is enter into an agreement with one. Antlers asks whether they can use the horses as bait in order to draw the alien out, but of course that isn't okay. So who is going down there to "get the star out of his trailer?" OJ says he'll draw him wherever Antlers wants him.

Em and Angel go on a strategic stealing spree of wacky-blower-guys and car batteries from the dead theme park visitors. OJ voiceovers that they have a limited time window before the rest of the world catches up on this. Angel asks whether this is for a good cause and not just the money and the fame, but maybe they can save some lives if they document this creature and explain to people that they can't, like, look it in the eye unless they don't want to get eaten.

Antlers does a lengthy quote of "Flying Purple People Eater" which doesn't make much sense to me because, like, the whole point of that song is that the creature is significantly less dangerous than expected. It's a song meant to play with the listener's expectations: something that seems scary actually isn't. Whereas this movie has been about things that don't seem scary (clouds, horses, chimps, etc) ARE dangerous. Maybe I'm just too familiar with the song and overthinking this?

ANYWAY. It's time to get a shot of an alien. We've got Angel and Antlers on the ridge with a non-electric film camera, Em in the house keeping an eye on the cameras and coordinating via walkie-talkie, and OJ riding Lucky around the ranch. Em gives Angel shit about the fact that Antler's film camera doesn't have a feed to the house for her to watch and Angel explains that since the camera isn't digital he couldn't quickly and easily rig something up. She accuses him of forgetting to do it and he snaps back (I LOVE HIM): "Yeah, well, I had my hands full rigging 50 fucking sky dancers to dead people's car batteries all connected to one control panel. So, yeah, fucking over. Sorry. I'm scared."

Ah! The sky dancers are so they can track the alien's movements, since it has an electric dead zone under it. A man in black on a white motorcycle with a silver helmet pulls up near the house with a camera. He has a tinny voice (a speaker through the helmet, disguising his voice?) and I'm wondering if he's some kind of... hobbyist alien hunter? Did Buffy just show up at the eleventh hour? But apparently he's press (Em says TMZ?) looking for answers as to what happened to all the people who disappeared from the theme park. How unusually intrepid!

The motorcycle rider hits the alien's anti-electric field and is tossed from his bike. He's still alive but injured and OJ rides out to him, keeping his eyes low. He urges the paparazzi to keep his eyes on him, but the man is disoriented and looking around for his camera. OJ tries to save him but the shiny helmet just looks too much like an eye (or a reflection? there's been a lot about the reflective eye-ball that spooked the horse and the mylar balloons that spooked Gordy) and the alien descends as OJ apologizes and books it. He really did all he could to save the guy. There's only so much you can do sometimes. It's sad, but not OJ's fault.

The alien hovers over OJ as he keeps his eyes down and we hear the rider screaming in pain. My god, this is horrifying. OH SHIT. OJ has reflectors on the back of his hoodie to lure the thing out for a money shot, and just when it's about to devour him (NO NO NO) he releases a pack of flags and the creature veers instantly off because it has learned that Flags = Tummy Pain. That was amazing. That was AMAZING. That was so beautiful and hectic and perfect. Wow.

Antlers notices that the light at the moment is just perfect. He picks up a smaller camera than the one he's been using. Angel asks where he's going. "It's gonna be alright, Angel. We don't deserve the impossible." Angel warns the others that Antlers is being cryptic and just went up the mountain and he's worried. Antlers starts filming directly into the clouds, drawing the creature out with his gaze. NO. I knew he was depressed, I knew he was suicidal, but... oh hon. Hon. That hurts my heart. He wanted one perfect shot.

The creature is about to dive for Angel (NOT MY ANGEL) when a blue tarp saves his life by slapping him down. He wisely wraps himself in a bunch of barbed wire to make himself inedible. Brilliant. It squeezes its prey to death but it spits him out immediately because he tastes like pain. Oh no, I see what's happening: their clever sky dancers that they were using as an early warning system are angering the creature. They didn't think about how all of them have eyes, and now there's just a field full of "challengers" enraging it. Now it just wants to kill them all and let god sort the souls out. And oh WOW, is that its threat display??

OJ tells Lucky to lay down by using the "bang" trick he's been training him for (the commercial) and plans to lure the creature away from Em. It's amazing looking, like a... a parachute with holes, or galleon sails. I love OJ so much. The creature opens a... an eye? It looks like a beautiful square beak. Em's bike powers up and she takes off with the creature following in hot pursuit like the most dangerous moth in existence. She rides to the theme park and breaks through the police tape, giving her FLAG POWER and marking her as inedible.

Sliding to a halt, she looks around the park and notices a big helium filled floaty of a cowboy which she quickly un-moors to float away. Then she remembers the picture well they have in the middle of the park, and she'll be damned if she won't get a picture after all this. The alien Bride Moth rises high in the sky to challenge the Floating Cowboy and Em takes picture after picture. (Kissmate notes with delight that it's a series of pictures like her ancestor, the motion-picture jockey!) She takes the perfect shot as the fucker grabs the cowboy and takes him in... only to explode horribly when the balloon pops. (So many balloon pops in this movie! First Gordy and now this one!)

The electricity flares back on with the creature's death and the closing time announcement plays on schedule. The picture pops out next to Em. The media and authorities begin to gather on the scene. And there, under the Out Yonder sign, we see OJ sitting triumphantly on Lucky as the western music swells. A true cowboy. A perfect movie. Perfect score. Perfect acting. That was amazing and I loved it so much.


Post a Comment