Friday Night Fright: Nope

Will Sorg – Entertainment Writer

Last Friday the Campus Activities Board at Gustavus showed Jordan Peele’s newest film Nope. Due to rain, the film was moved to the Lund Center, which is truly a shame. Had the weather cooperated, the horror film, which is set almost entirely outside, would’ve been a perfect fit for a showing in the Arb.

The genius of Nope is that it is able to be simultaneously a fantastic time and undeniably horrifying. The film follows the Haywood siblings, the children of a Hollywood horse rancher, as they try to discover the secret behind the strange occurrences that have been plaguing their family’s ranch and the surrounding areas. This may seem like a simple horror story but, of course, writer/director Peele is anything but simple in his telling of this story. Peele’s film is filled with fascinating characters: from the tourist trap owner Ricky Park, to the secretive cinematographer, to the recently single tech store employee named Angel. All of these characters and more come together to inhabit a world that is unforgivingly dangerous. 

The investment in the characters is essential and Peele knows that, because if you care about the characters you will be even more terrified when their lives are in danger. The tension that comes from wanting to see a character survive in a seemingly unsurvivable situation goes hand-in-hand with an investment in the thematic ideas that are explored through these characters. 

The Haywood siblings are fantastically executed characters in this regard. O.J. Haywood, played by the immensely talented Daniel Kuluuya, is trying to keep the ranch afloat after his father is killed in an unexplainable accident on the ranch. He is reserved, yet frustrated by the fact that the film industry, his livelihood, is being erased. We see that erasure represented in an early scene in which the horse he brings on for a commercial is replaced by a model that will later be computer animated. Meanwhile his sister Emerald is trying to break out in the industry as an artist, plugging her talents at the same commercial set where their father’s work is being replaced by cheaper and more predictable CGI. 

When the siblings’ suspicions about the strange activity on their ranch turns into an unsettling encounter with a UFO, the pair decide one thing: they need to be the ones who get the proof. Throughout the whole film the Haywoods are symbolic of the reclamation of identity and power. Their ancestry as the descendants of the uncredited black man who appeared in the first film ever made, a man who never got credit in real life, serves as a symbol for the generational erasure of Black accomplishments throughout American history. 

I could go on forever about the absolute genius of this film. Even though this is the second time I’ve seen the film, I still found myself absolutely engrossed. It was a fantastic time seeing the other students in attendance just as enraptured by the horror and excitement of a truly incredible film.