How the Movie Changes the Course of Alien Invasion Movies
Jordan Peele brought us yet another horror game changer with his latest film Nope. In its new take on social terror, two siblings witness something sinister lurking in the clouds above their remote ranch. It’s up to them to capture the mysterious phenomenon on camera before it’s too late. But at what cost ? Peele’s chilling third effort is a thrilling and provocative ride that pushes the boundaries of the alien invasion genre beyond anything we’ve seen before.
As with any Peele movie, it’s because, as much as Nope scares us, it also forces us to think. The film perhaps leaves audiences with far more questions than answers, in that we sometimes doubt the seemingly simple premise of the film itself. Based on the film’s most recent trailer, the only thing we can really be certain of is that some sort of menace lurks in the skies. But what exactly is up there? Are they invasive or simply observant?
For its novelty and confusing elements, Nope might be Peele’s most polarizing film to date. Unlike any alien invasion movie of the past, even the most nuanced efforts like M. Night Shyamalan’s Panelsimpossible to know what we are getting into Nope – both when we enter the film and when we leave it. Yet Peele’s continued risk-taking and subversiveness is what has qualified him as one of today’s most promising directors. Even though Nope confusing on first viewing, it is a film to be seen countless times, each image offering an infinite source of analysis.
A genre show
Itself a critique of the human desire for spectacle, Nope is a show that refuses to play by the rules. That’s part of what makes it so popular – although categorized as ‘horror’, the film is light years beyond that. Some argue that the film doesn’t qualify as a horror at all.
Obviously, without necessary explanation, the second kind that comes to mind when considering Nope it’s science fiction. Yet even so, Nope unlike any other alien sci-fi movie from years past; comparing it to something like Annihilationor that of John Carpenter The thing, which also straddles the line between these two genres, would be felt as a personal affront to Peele. Not because his film is inherently better than those mentioned, but because it is so different.
Peele makes the brilliant move of adding a neo-Western backdrop to Nopewhich perfectly complements the slow pace of the film and allows for the creation of fascinating characters. The end of the film, although containing scenes of the inevitable (confrontation with the alien), feels more like a long-awaited confrontation than anything else. Further still, parts of Nope even feel like a totally twisted sitcom – the title alone isn’t without its sardonic humor. Nope is a film about films; contrary to independence day and aliens – movies about aliens – he doesn’t have to decide what he wants to be.
The Alien, aka “The Viewers”
Peele’s alien is an enigma. It is not a number to be decoded by scientists or government officials, or to be shot at by vengeful vigilantes. Not only his purpose, but his physical anatomy remains completely unknown for much of the film. It makes sense, then, that so many posters for Nope feature no monsters, but instead the bewildered faces of the actors gazing upwards or a horse levitating in the night sky.
It was a very deliberate move on Peele’s part; by subverting the role the monster usually plays in alien movies, it challenges us to ask ourselves what the movie is really about, beyond the superficial threat of something intimidating otherworldly on Earth. It’s only when viewers savor Peele’s alien mystery, and not necessarily try to unlock it, that Nope be savored to its full potential. We begin to see the alien just as OJ, Emerald, and Jupe see them – as “spectators”. This is indeed the name that Jupe, a former child star turned showman, gives to the extraterrestrial when he leads one of his “shows”.
Nope encourages us, like its characters, to be radically skeptical. An early scene in the movie is quite revealing – OJ points out that UFOs aren’t even called UFOs anymore, but UAPs. The mystery of the extraterrestrial is constantly evolving. The only constant is the viewer.
Horror beyond the monster
It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a horror movie, Nope has its moments of sheer dread and imminent apprehension. The first half of the film, in which OJ and Emerald play a curious game of cat and mouse with the alien, is plagued by the latter. Every moment is tense and filled with suspense, as one wonders when the “real” confrontation will take place. While we wait, there are quite a few scary red herrings and jumps that Peele uses to play with us – constantly screaming screams in the sky and a rather humorous mock encounter with “the alien”.
But what makes Nope such a game-changer is that most of its horrors exist entirely outside of the monster’s realm. The stuff of real nightmares is found in the film’s subplots and chilling implications. Take, for example, the film’s main subplot which revolves around Gordy the chimpanzee. In the 90s, Yeun’s character, Jupe, was one of the stars of a sitcom called “Gordy’s Home”, in which the chimpanzee himself also starred. We witness, twice, the terrifying event of what happened one day on set when something happened in Gordy. From young Jupe’s perspective, a savage and unforgettable attack unfolds.
This scene has been named one of the most terrifying in the film. It possesses a rawness and gratuitousness that we don’t quite get from encounters with the monster. Gordy is perhaps another smaller example of one of the film’s central motifs, that of a “bad miracle” – what happens when humans attempt to control nature for their many versions of profit. From something potentially wondrous, something deadly unfolds.