In 1975, at the age of 23, Boston Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn not only won Rookie of the Year, he was named the American League’s MVP. He was the first and only rookie in baseball history to pull off that incredible feat until 2001. That’s when a 27-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, one of Japan’s best and most established stars, matched him. None have done it since, but it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like in ’75 watching Lynn take home both awards. If he was that good as a rookie, what could he accomplish with with more experience? What was his ceiling? Surely baseball fans were about to witness one of the greatest careers in MLB history, right?
But Lynn never again won MVP. The closest he ever came was a single fourth place finish. And the only two other times he got any votes he finished in the 20s. Lynn didn’t even make the Hall of Fame. Why am I talking about an old baseball player at the start of a Nope review? Two reasons. The first, strange as it may seem, is that I was thinking about the former centerfielder a lot while watching writer-director Jordan Peele’s latest film. (More on that later.) The second is that I wanted to make you wait before revealing what’s really going on, just like Nope does. I just hope this slow build was worth the wait like it is for Peele’s unique alien invasion film.
The less you know about Nope going in the better. The movie’s trailers gave away more than they should have. Unfortunately for me I saw every single ad for the film. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying Nope. It just hindered my ability to get lost in the film the way I would have preferred. Knowing certain scenes had yet to show up made it so I couldn’t help trying to figure out when they’d show up.
The good news is that a major storyline that frames the entire film was never revealed in a single trailer. And there’s a significant “twist” I didn’t see a single person predict, one that makes this unlike most alien invasion films.
But that’s an issue of promotion, not filmmaking. As for that, Nope has plenty to praise. That includes its major characters who are all excellent. Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Howard, the son and heir of a legendary movie horse trainer’s ranch, is quietly hilarious and the glue that holds the film together. His sister “Em” could have been annoying in lesser hands, but Keke Palmer turns her into a charming rocket of kinetic energy that serves as the perfect foil to her far more serious brother. She’s a powerhouse the same as Kaluuya is, just in the total opposite way.
Meanwhile, their ranch’s neighbor, Steven Yeun’s “Little Jup” Ricky, a former child star still chasing glory, pulls off a role that is far trickier than it might seem. Ricky could easily be a joke, but instead he’s someone worth rooting for. He’s sincere and likable, and Yeun seamlessly handles his role’s comedic and traumatic elements.
While it’s doubtful anyone will be surprised by how good those three are, Brandon Perea’s electronics store tech, Angel, is an unexpected delight. His faith that aliens are real leads to him getting in on the fun—and terror—of the cash-strapped Haywood siblings’ lucrative plan. They want to get the first good video footage of a UFO, and Angel makes that attempt a lot more fun. As does the inclusion of Michael Wincott’s famed cinematographer Antlers Holst. Of the five significant characters in the film, he has by far the smallest role, but he makes his time on screen more than count. He’s “presence” personified, and is hilarious, creepy, and mesmerizing all at the same time.
The film also features some great jump scares and real moments of genuine dread. It’s amazing the terror Peele can build with nothing more than a scared horse running away. There’s also one scene (which I refuse to give away) that, in the moment, was as stomach-churning as any I’ve seen in a long time. And yet, that sequence ends with a huge, well-earned laugh. The film features plenty of laugh out loud moments besides that, too. Many of which come from OJ or Em simply saying some form of the film’s title. Kaluuya repeatedly kills with nothing more than a well-timed, understated “nope.”
However, despite the combination of scares and laughs, it doesn’t feel accurate to call Nope a horror-comedy. It’s overall tone doesn’t fit alongside classics such as An American Werewolf in London, Shaun of the Dead, Gremlins, or Army of Darkness. It’s closest equivalent is Signs, another alien invasion film. But Nope is quieter in many ways than M.Night Shyamalan’s film. And that’s not because Nope holds its cards close to its proverbial chest. It’s because it’s not clear what game Nope is even playing for a long time.
Nope is a slow build, but not in the traditional sense. It’s a slow build to letting you know what kind of film you’re watching. I found that slightly frustrating early on, but I also trusted Peele to bring it home. No surprise, I was rewarded for that trust. Because when Nope does finally let you in on what it’s about, it goes from intriguing to genuinely fascinating. People will be talking about this movie and what they think it’s truly about for a long time. I have my own theories, which involve the fact this might be a covert remake of an all-time classic. (I’d ruin the entire movie if I told you which one.)
That’s why I ultimately think Nope will get better on repeated viewings. There’s so much to consider and peel (Peele?) back, that you’ll find meaning in the first half you didn’t even know to look for originally.
I realize saying a movie will be better the second or third time you watch it can be a backhanded compliment. But I really did enjoy my first viewing. This is a good movie even if it’s not great. It looks fantastic. I cared about what happened to the characters and why these things were happening. I was also fully invested in the big ending sequence. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since it ended. There’s just a lot to appreciate and reflect on.
Which brings me back to Fred Lynn. Jordan Peele’s first movie, Get Out, wasn’t just a great horror movie. It might have been the best movie of 2017 period. And I don’t even think it’s debatable that it’s one of the best movies of the 21st century. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece. But his followup, Us, didn’t get the same acclaim as Get Out, even though I think that movie is brilliant in its own ways. The “problem” some people had, and not even with any malice, was that they couldn’t help but compare Us to Get Out. In some ways I was guilty of that myself. But few movies over the last 20 years can compare with Get Out.
But that’s not a good way to evaluate films. And it’s certainly not the best way to enjoy them, otherwise every movie that isn’t your all-time favorite would disappoint. It’s why Get Out cannot be Jordan Peele’s own Fred Lynn rookie season. If you go into Nope expecting another Get Out you will not like it as much as you would. (Especially since it’s not trying to be as scary. Nor is the film’s themes aiming as high as Peele’s directorial debut.)
Enjoy Nope for what it is. And Nope is a confusing but engaging film. It will scare you sometimes, make you laugh at others, and in some instances do both at the same time. And it does that all while making you think the entire time and even after it ends. That’s pretty good. Just like the rest of Fred Lynn’s career was. He was still a nine time All-Star and one of baseball’s best players during his time. And even though he never again won MVP, his 1979 season was actually his best.
Maybe someday Jordan Peele will make a film better than Get Out. But whether or not he ever does isn’t important when reviewing Nope. This film shows he’s still finding success when he steps to the plate.
Nope lands in theaters July 22
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.