It’s Super Bowl Sunday, when Hollywood traditionally drops several high-profile trailers for upcoming major films and TV series. This year, the marketing frenzy kicks off with the first trailer for Jordan Peele’s forthcoming horror feature, Nope, which dropped unexpectedly at 3 AM Eastern this morning. We at Ars Technica are totally on board for this film.
Our confidence is pretty well-placed. Peele has cemented his status as the current master of smart, thought-provoking horror, starting with Get Out, his surprise box office hit that earned more than $250 million and snagged Peele an Oscar for best original screenplay—the first time the award has gone to a black recipient. Get Out is a subtle exploration of racial tensions that quietly builds to reveal its horrifying premise and inevitably bloody conclusion. In his 2019 follow-up, Us, the theme wasn’t so much racial tension—it was exploring, in Peele’s words, the myriad ways in which “we are our own worst enemies.”
Peele also co-wrote, with director Nia DaCosta, last year’s electrifying sequel (of sorts), Candyman, which transformed the singular 1990s slasher known as Candyman into an ageless malevolence whose curse reverberates through time. Then there’s Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone and the various films showcased in the anthology series Welcome to the Blumhouse, and the myriad other projects he’s had a hand in with Blumhouse Productions.
So any new project from the man’s brilliantly twisted mind is welcome, and Nope looks to be just as strangely evocative as Get Out and Us. Peele’s films never reveal too much in the trailers, since much of the pleasure derives from the frequently bizarre surprise twists. We wouldn’t have it any other way. All we know thus far about Nope is that Daniel Kaluuya (who won an Oscar for Get Out), Keke Palmer (Hustlers, Alice) and Steven Yeun (Minari, Okja) play “residents in a lonely gulch of inland California who bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery.” We don’t even know the characters’ names yet.
The trailer offers just a few more scant details. First off, we are treated to historic footage by 19th century photographer Eadweard Muybridge, the first to capture a horse in different stages of its gallop on film—a technological breakthrough that helped pioneer the film industry. (Legend has it that Muybridge was asked to settle a bet for the Governor of California, who insisted that when a horse gallops, at a particular point all four feet are off the ground simultaneously. Another fun fact: Muybridge was tried and acquitted for killing his wife’s lover, in the O.J. Simpson trial of the 19th century.)
It seems Palmer’s character is the great-great-great granddaughter of the rider featured in Muybridge’s famous footage. That’s what she claims as she and a distinctly glum Kaluuya are filming a commercial for the Haywood Ranch, the first Black-owned horse training ranch in Hollywood. “We like to say since the moment pictures could move, we had skin the game,” she enthuses. It looks like they occasionally stage performances there, for whomever makes the trek out to the isolated ranch.
It’s pretty much ranch business as usual at first, with Palmer getting her groove on, dancing inside, as the still-glum Kaluuya hangs out in the dark with a horse. But then the sky begins to darken ominously, the power goes out, and the horse bolts in panic. A bunch of inflatable waving tube men mysteriously deflate—they’re already creepy, and even more so in this context. In the final scene, Palmer looks up at the sky in horror, turns and runs—only to be swept up into the sky. “What’s a bad miracle? We got a word for that?” Kaluuya says.
Could it be… aliens? I mean, it sure seems like it could be aliens. Not only is the main house strangely evocative of the house in 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but there are alien trinkets on sale at the ranch’s souvenir kiosk. And is that a shriveled alien hand reaching out to touch a human child’s hand? Alternatively, this might just be more of Peele’s penchant for clever misdirection, and it’s something even weirder. Expect a few mind-blogging twists either way before the credits roll.
Nope opens in theaters on July 22, 2022.
Listing image by YouTube/Universal Pictures