2022 is shaping up to be a return to a semblance of normal life at the movies. After two years that were mostly ravaged by real-world circumstances, the last quarter of 2021 finally saw a backlog of exciting projects that had been delayed for months. The riches of such a long wait will continue throughout the entirety of 2022, including big movies from heavy hitters such as Martin Scorsese, Matt Reeves, Olivia Wilde, Noah Baumbach, Taika Waititi, and Robert Eggers. Belonging in that strong company of filmmakers is of course Jordan Peele, one of our modern horror maestros. All he’s done in his short career as a director is make 2 of the best received, and financially profitable, horror films in recent memory – Get Out (2017) and Us (2019). Considering how quickly his movies become major topics of conversation online, each new Poole film becomes an event for fans of “elevated horror” and unconventional blockbusters alike. However, with such attention comes enormous pressure.
When you make a debut that’s as sensationally crowd-pleasing as Get Out, the narrative around your career quickly centers around if you can top that fortuitous start. As much as I enjoyed Us, it was not as strong as Get Out, and a large part of the general public was clearly confused by what the movie was trying to say. Communication between filmmaker and audience is a huge part of the appeal of elevated horror, and Peele’s latest looks like another in his filmography where the subtext is just as important as the plot. It’s called Nope and stars a cascade of actors with high approval ratings (Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun). From the looks of the first trailer, first previewed on Super Bowl Sunday, Nope seems to have a lot on its mind:
Now that’s a proper way to do a teaser trailer! Give us a sense of the movie’s visual style, tone, and characters without spoiling the entire plot. There’s currently not much known about what’s going on here, nor is there a FULL plot synopsis, and perhaps that’s for the best. Still, it seems that characters in the movie are going to experience an alien encounter, and theories abound about what that could mean for the movie’s subtext. Now we could speculate on what social commentary is baked into the use of the aliens, if “Nope” is an acronym that refers to otherworldly creatures, or what the anecdote Keke Palmer reveals about the origin of movies means for what Peele is intending to express. But I’d rather let the mystery wash over us, and save the endless dissection for July 22nd.
It’s just refreshing to look forward to a movie of this scale that is also based on an original script – a concept that is certainly not dead but is becoming increasingly scarce. Peele has earned a great deal of goodwill among cinephiles while also making his movies accessible to non-horror fans (although many of them will likely Nope out of this, as The Game of Nerds’ Andy Parola has already made clear).
Peele’s ascent to the top of the genre isn’t dissimilar from perhaps his biggest foil – Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar). While the 2 have different styles (Aster’s films have more brutality and gore, Peele’s are more socially conscious), they’ve kind of been circling each other for the current crown of most prolific horror director (Robert Eggers would typically be in this conversation, but The Northman doesn’t currently look like it will be a horror movie). Peele has the box office and the accolades, but I’d argue that Aster has been on a slightly better hot streak the last few years. As double features go, Hereditary/Midsommar beats out Get Out/Us. And wouldn’t you know, Aster will grace us with his next feature later this year, in the Joaquin Phoenix starring Disappointment Blvd. – described as a horror/comedy.
But for now, the ball is in Peele’s court to show that he still wears that crown and should be the most lauded name in his genre. It could end being too much pressure, as he wouldn’t be the first person to falter under incredibly high expectations (we’re cool now, right Shyamalan?), or Nope could end up being one of the transcendent films of the year. In either outcome, the memes should be delicious.
Nope descends in theaters everywhere, July, 22nd.