by Gill Pringle

A dark pop nightmare of science fiction and complex social thriller, Nope unpacks the seeds of violence, risk and opportunism that are inseparable from the romanticised history of the American West and, indeed, from show business itself.

Reuniting with Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya, the actor is joined by Keke Palmer (Hustlers) and Oscar nominee Steven Yeun (Minari) as residents of a lonely stretch of inland California who bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery.

Executive Producer Win Rosenfeld, Steven Yeun, Daniel Kaluuya, Director/Writer/Producer Jordan Peele, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea and Producer Ian Cooper attend as Universal Pictures’ NOPE Premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Monday, July 18, 2022. Photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

If you thought that Peele would be overwhelmed by the expectations of his latest epic, then he’s mellow when he chats to FilmInk.

“I think of the expectations as gifts, it’s the only way you can, otherwise you’re going to be smothered and unwound by overthought,” he says.

“So for me, by sort of taking control of what I think the expectations are, gives me a sense of a power when I’m crafting a story because the more I know about what an audience is thinking and what they’re expecting, the more ability I have to deliver on that – or flip it on its head,” he says.

Casting Kaluuya and Palmer as OJ and Emerald Haywood, the siblings have inherited a horse ranch from their industry-legend father, where they must carry the torch of his craft as animal wranglers for film and television.

For Peele, the two actors embody a certain yin and yang. “They both represent two distinct parts of my personal relationship to the need for attention,” he admits. “And I think probably sort of two halves that most of us have within us, where I would at least say that most people would think that they are an OJ or they are an Emerald.

“There’s part of me that is Emerald; that wants to be out there, to get the laugh, to get the praise, and there’s another part of me that’s OJ that is just very socially nervous and uncomfortable. So that’s the sibling-hood we’re talking about here,” he says.

Maintaining their father’s business is a tough challenge for the siblings and, despite their skills, OJ and Emerald face financial struggles and the heartbreak inherent to a trade where livestock is the talent.

Adjacent to the Haywood ranch sits Jupiter’s Claim, a family-fun theme park and petting zoo owned by Ricky “Jupe” Park (Yeun), a former child star saddled with a tabloid-tragic backstory that he has spent a lifetime trying to escape.

As OJ and Emerald begin observing unexplained phenomena on their vast ranch, this leads them down an obsessive rabbit hole – plotting attempts to capture the mystery on camera. Through increasingly elaborate and dangerous set-ups, the situation escalates, forcing them to enlist “expert” help.

Discussing the symbolism inherent in all his films, Peele says, “My relationship to symbolism has grown a bit in that it’s become a little bit more organic, how certain symbols manifest and what they mean.

“Really, what happens over the course of a process is you find connections in things, be they shapes, colours, or ways that patterns interact with one another, and you find patterns and you draw them out and so much of telling a story in moviemaking is starting with inspiration; something you don’t know, and then trying to understand what you’ve been trying to tell yourself.

“So, you can’t sort of decide what symbols are, you have to let them appear, let them show you what they are,” he says.

If some audiences were surprised by Peele’s decision to take on sci-fi, he argues, “Well, I always feel I’m in some way in the science fiction game – just in that I always like to marry a little bit of science fiction with the reality of ‘What if-ness’.

“I guess I don’t know how to answer the question except to say that the genre questions get harder and harder as I go on with my career to know how to answer. I’m not offended by them but they’re harder because I think that hopefully the notes that come out in these movies and, I think what happens in Nope, is you get something that feels like it has a little bit of everything.”

Peele believes his comedic background serves him well in tackling such complex subjects whilst also ensuring they are entertaining. “I think there’s a love that I have for the audience that is born out of my past in comedy where, as a comedian, I want the entire room laughing.

“It’s not enough to just get that corner of the room. Sometimes that’s nice. But you know, you’re really funny if you can get the whole audience and so I don’t discriminate with my audience and I assume that they love movies the same way I do,” says the filmmaker who first launched his career on Mad TV, later teaming with his Mad TV partner, Keegan-Michael Key for popular sketch comedy series Key & Peele.

Inspired by the filmmaking style of Brian De Palma, he says, “He has such great cinematic suspense and the way he can create a set piece where you have an understanding of the geography; you have an understanding of the timing; you have the understanding of what everyone is doing, and he can set a clock. That’s something that I’ve always admired.”

He hopes that audiences are both scared and intrigued by Nope. “I think that film is one of the ways that we address our fears and the thing that is trickiest about fears is that it’s such an unpleasant emotion, that we fight it, as human beings, and we suppress it.

“And I truly believe that anything that we suppress, anything that we keep down or hold down for long enough, doesn’t go away – it just comes out in worse and worse ways.

“So, there’s something about getting together with a bunch of people and facing those fears in a safe way; in a way where you feel at home and you feel good at the same time. Your body needs to release that fear, you can’t hold on to it. That’s why horror movies work,” he says.

Nope is in cinemas August 11, 2022

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