The word I keep coming back to is "spectacle." It's a word that Ricky (Steven Yeun) promises a small audience just before something horrifying happens. And aside from the long-delayed Top Gun: Maverick, it's been something missing from movies for several years. Nope may be Jordan Peele's least thematically rich movie to date, but he more than makes up for that with awe-inspiring images.
Daniel Kaluuya plays O.J., who struggles to keep the family horse training center afloat after the mysterious death of his father (Keith David). When his prodigal sister Em (Keke Palmer) returns to their remote ranch, they keep seeing unexplainable phenomena. Convinced it's a UFO, they load up on security cameras in hopes of capturing "the Oprah shot" - a video so clear and undeniable it will reverse their fortunes. They reluctantly befriend Angel (Brandon Perea, who I'd never seen in anything before), a tech expert and conspiracy theorist who uses their shooting sessions as an escape from his dead-end job.
Like Jaws - a movie I've already seen this compared to - this group is in over their heads, overmatched by something they don't understand and often underestimate. Like Spielberg's masterpiece, Peele deploys jump scares, punchlines and horrifying monologues with expert timing. It was a great theatrical experience, as the packed theater gave the film their rapt attention, recoiling and laughing at the right moments.
While the film doesn't have as much social satire as Get Out or Us, it features Peele's deepest characters to date. Our trio - plus a cinematographer played by Michael Wincott - can't stop pursuing their obsessions, even when their lives are in danger. And Steven Yeun's Ricky, who has perhaps just 15 minutes of screentime, gives us a fully fleshed-out person. He's a struggling businessman, haunted by a traumatic incident from his childhood. Still, he presents himself as a consummate showman, an Asian-American P.T. Barnum. It's sneakily the best performance in a movie with a lot of them.
Nope is scary, funny, disturbing and sharp. But above all, it's expertly crafted spectacle. In a summer devoid of such incredible sights, look up and you'll see Jordan Peele, high above his peers.