I just saw Nope and it was really good. It had an intriguing, multi-layered story, strong characters, thematic density, and a pervasive atmosphere of mystery and terror. It’s also one of the closest films I’ve seen to the Lovecraftian idea of cosmic horror, where alien gods treat humans much as humans do “lesser” animals, gobbling them up without a care. (One of the other films would be John Carpenter’s The Thing, which Nope gives a nod to by casting Keith David in a small role.) Except that it arguably even improves on the Old Master by providing more fleshed-out characters and contemporary situations that feel real.
What I really like about the film is the care and intelligence it displays in telling a horror story, developing even those characters whose function in the present narrative is really just to die. There’s a great subplot about a cheesy, upbeat ‘90s sitcom that went horribly, horribly wrong due to a lack of safety precautions around working with children and animals. A lot of horror movies would have either deleted this subplot or reduced it to a sadistic set-piece, but what really chills - and what makes Jordan Peele one of the best makers of suspense films since Alfred Hitchcock - is the empathy that’s on display, the way that the camera understands and communicates what it must be like to be a terrified witness to a bloody spectacle. (The film opens with a Biblical quote on this theme.)
Without giving it away, we see what happens right before disaster strikes. And then we approach some time later from backstage, moving across a mostly deserted studio to underneath a table, from which vantage point we’re forced to look tremblingly out...
Nope is a thematically dense film, and shows that horror is one of the few cinematic genres in which interesting work is being done. It’s often said of science-fiction that 90% of it is crap, but I’ve always felt that this law holds truer with horror. Horror and comedy are the two hardest cinematic genres to do well, yet when they are done well they blow most other genres out of the water.
To continue this tangent, a bad horror film is like a porno that’s calling itself a romance. It’s just exploitation without human resonance. Yes, people are being killed and chopped about, but so what? What am I supposed to feel beyond disgust? Nope is of the 10% that provides a human resonance, and is about the emotion of horror.