Jordan Peele’s third film as a writer and director, Nope, starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun and Brandon Perea, is a gripping and ambitious summer thriller that’s equal parts bombastic popcorn flick and also a reflective and nuanced examination of the sinister parts of the industry that created it and a celebration of the hundreds of brilliant people working in it that are so often overlooked.

It’s even happening up here, with top billing of this very review going to its writer/director, and the lead actors. There, unfortunately, isn’t a high enough word count to include every creative person that likely made this film as special as it is, but it’s great to see some below-the-line crew entrenched as the leads in this story.

Kaluuya and Palmer, the magnetic stars, play OJ (short for Otis Jr.) and Emerald Haywood, Hollywood animal trainers who inherited their father’s ranch. Their role is key to a film set, but these experts have nowhere near the profile of those hiring them, and are routinely exploited for their skills and take punishment for others’ failings.

Yeun’s character also embodies these themes as a former child star who now lives near the ranch, running a carnival where he continues to profit off of his past tokenized appearances in old films and shows, including one involving a chimpanzee co-star in a short-lived sitcom that ends up being an unexpectedly engrossing subplot.

From the very beginning, the sense of building tension is expertly crafted in this film, even with the usual horror cliche of lesser red herring scares early on being perfectly executed here. The visual effects and production design on display in the film are also working perfectly in harmony to execute Peele’s vision. Nope harkens back to past blockbusters by the greats like Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott but is undeniably new and refreshing with its amazing cast, a thread of humor that still never spoils the tension, and striking symbolism that will reveal even more on repeat viewings.

Even though the film is just north of two hours, watching it feels like a perfectly crafted thrill ride where every lurch and fall feels intentional and it just flies by before you. Watching this film in theaters will make you feel like your stomachs dropping right out of your gut many times over, and give you that amusement park urge that you want to get right back on, game for everything again including the most chilling parts.

Some parts of the film are left unsaid and unexplored in a way that may not be satisfying to some viewers, but it still gives you enough to be more than fascinated with Peele’s vision of an undeniably creepy sci-fi encounter flick. And even those viewers can’t deny that the experience is made more profound by the themes Peele is grappling with in this new outing.

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