So I have watched this a second time (on Amazon Prime streaming) and noticed a lot more stuff. Here are some of my notes from watching it, at home a third time. I also watched some reviews afterward. Normally, I don’t watch other people’s reviews or analyses, but I wanted to get an idea of what other viewers thought about the movie, and if my ideas about it were typical. It turns out that the thoughts and feelings I had were pretty typical of people who understood the movie. There was a huge contingent of people who simply didn’t understand the movie. Some of them were just people who are not especially practiced at reading movies, while some were so dazzled by the spectacle they couldn’t see a coherent point being made.
*In the biblical quote at the beginning of the movie is the line: “I will cast abominable filth upon thee.” Most people took this to be a reference to the bloody rain that the alien dumps on the Haywood Ranch at the midpoint of the movie, but I thought of this as a reference to Hollywood and the entertainment industry which regularly showers audiences with crude and dumbed-down media that is little more than intellectually inert spectacle.
*One thing that occurred to me again on another viewing was each character holds onto something that they feel is precious to them, but is also emblematic of their trauma, like Jupe and the little gray shoe. Oj holds onto the coin that Jean Jacket dropped from the sky which killed his father, and the orange hoodie that he wore to his first training job on the set of The Scorpion King 2. Em holds onto Otis Sr’s speech about Haywood Ranch which he used to give to prospective employers. She has memorized this speech down to the last detail and vocal inflection. For Antlers Holst it’s his vintage camera. I’m not sure what Angel’s token is because we only have his recent breakup with his girlfriend to associate with him.
*At every moment in the movie, we are told what the movie is about or given clues to its themes. When we first see Antlers Holst he is watching videos of closeups of different predators’ eyes. Later, we see him watching a video of a fight between two large predators. When he has dinner with the Haywoods he starts to sing the song called The Flying Purple People Eater, a one-hit wonder by Sheb Wooley, released in 1958. Otis talks with Oj about how predators cannot be tamed only bargained with. This is a callback to Gordy and a statement about Jean Jacket. Later, Oj recalls this conversation saying that one doesn’t tame a predator and you can only enter into an agreement with it. In response, Holst mentions Siegfried and Roy, this is a reference to a lion-taming duo that worked in Las Vegas. In 2003, a white tiger attacked and maimed one of the pair onstage. He survived the attack but both their careers as tamers was ended.
*I did enjoy this movie’s full use of the landscape. The images heavily reminded me of Dances with Wolves, because that’s another movie where the landscape is almost another character in the film. Peele does a superb job of making the viewer fear this wide-open panorama of mountains, blue skies, and oceans of grass, and like the characters in the movie, your eyes nervously search the fluffy white clouds for a hint that the alien is nearby. In 1975, Steven Spielberg made people afraid to go into the water, and Peele accomplishes much the same effect here, only you’ll be looking at the skies.
*Some of the imagery in the film is a callback to the mythology of ufo abductions and cattle mutilations in the Midwestern part of the US, so the link between the Western film genre and aliens has been well established. I was reminded of a documentary I watched on Hulu called Skinwalker Ranch, about a parcel of land in Utah that is infamous for paranormal events, like strange shape-shifting animals, cattle mutilations, and ufo sightings.
Last year, the US government declassified documents on sightings of what it now refers to as UAPs. Angel mentions the acronym but claims he doesn’t know what UAP stands for. It means Unexplained Ariel Phenomena, which I suppose is just as accurate a description of the monster in this movie as a ufo. (I watched this movie with my niece, The Potato, and she kept calling it a “you-foe” like it was all one word and I realized that I have never in my life thought of ufos as just one word!) It’s also interesting to note that Nope also stands for “Not Of Planet Earth”.
*In a blink and you’ll miss it moment a news report talks about a bunch of missing hikers in the valley, who it is assumed were eaten by the alien. If so, that would explain the falling objects at the beginning of the movie, the coin that kills Otis Sr., and the key we see embedded in Ghost’s backside. It would also explain the screaming he and Oj heard just before Otis is killed.
*Another great part of this movie are the sound effects because even if you’ve never given a single thought about such things before, you’ll notice it in this movie. After the alien has eaten (horses or people) it is preceded and trailed by the sound of its victims screaming as they are being digested, and quite frankly, that noise is probably one of the most horrifying things in the movie. If you listen hard at certain points, you can even hear individual voices. The alien itself is mostly silent except for an occasional growl (that sounds a little bit like the jets that fly over my house in the Fall). Another moment where you’ll pay close attention to sound is during Gordy’s rampage. Most of it takes place offscreen but what you can hear of it…well your imagination is gonna work a real number on you during those scenes, and you will not like it.
*There was one viewer who said the tornado effect the alien uses to slurp up prey reminded them of the tornado from The Wizard of Oz, but instead of going to some lost land, you end up somewhere much much worst.
*One of the most visually disturbing moments are the shots from within the creature’s gullet, as people and animals, alive and aware, are squeezed upwards towards its stomach. This isn’t a gory film. In fact, except for one scene, there’s almost no blood to speak of, but nevertheless, this is one of the most deeply disturbing horror movies I’ve ever watched, and that one scene apparently haunted a lot of viewers.
* I realized on my second viewing that the opening/title shots occurred at the opening of the creature’s digestive tract. There was one reviewer who said it reminded them of the old-style cameras that required the photographer to stand under linen cloths to take photos. Another reviewer said that the alien’s square mouth opening (with the green fringe) pulsed like the shutter of a camera, which is in keeping with the themes of cameras and spectacle.
*Part of the monster’s reaction to being looked at is the reaction of large predators who see eye contact as a dominance threat. Some predators (bears, spiders, birds) when they think they are being challenged by a rival will puff themselves up to look bigger and more menacing to any creature that challenges them with eye contact, which is, I think, what we’re seeing at the end of the film. The alien is indeed making a spectacle of itself to be more intimidating to Oj. I saw this and understood it, but didn’t put it together why it was doing this to Oj until I watched this a third time. A lot of people ask why it does this at the end of the movie and not at any other time. That’s because until then it has not been directly challenged by anyone but Oj, and I think it’s afraid of him, or at least wary of eating him. Every other time it chased Oj he gave ground. He averted his eyes, ran, or hid, but the last couple of times it chased him it was badly hurt, and it probably associated that pain with Oj’s orange hoodie and horse. It was chasing Oj and Lucky when it picked up the plastic horse that hurt it by getting stuck in its digestive tract. Later, Oj attracted it to him with the balloon on the end of the rainbow flag tether and the yellow spots on his hoodie, it then picked up Angel and got a mouthful of barbed wire. But now, Oj has stopped running, and is making direct eye contact, and standing his ground, so the creature probably sees Oj as another predator and puts on a threat display to make him run. Remember, to some animals, a rival stands its ground, and only food runs. Now, there were other incidents where people were staring at it and didn’t run and they got eaten, but none of them were associated with pain or harm. In fact, Jupe was probably associated with food, since he’d been feeding it for several months.
*This is also the reason I don’t think Oj dies at the end of the movie. There were some viewers who suggested that Oj standing under the Out Yonder sign meant that he was killed. First, we don’t hear anyone screaming inside the alien as it flies past Em, and second, when the creature explodes, no bodies fall out of it. I think it ignores Oj to chase the fleeing Em, and then it gets distracted by the giant balloon of Jupe, which is looking at it but also moving away. This is not a smart creature. I think it mostly runs on instinct, and throughout the movie, it mostly acts like an opportunistic predator that chases whatever is moving. An opportunistic predator changes its behavior (tactics) based on encountering prey that it wasn’t looking for. It will chase anything that runs.
*Another reason I don’t think Oj dies at the end is that the plot of this movie closely mirrors Jaws, and there’s the same fake-out death at the end of that movie when the audience believes that Hooper has been eaten by the shark. Hooper survived the shark by hiding in some rocks and reappears at the end of the movie after the shark is killed. So yes, I think Emerald is actually looking at her brother and not a ghost or hallucination. He is framed sitting on Lucky under a sign that says Out Yonder. The real-life phrase however is Over Yonder (which also means in the distance), so it’s easy to see how people got confused about it, but Oj is framed under that sign a couple of times in the movie, each framing appearing before or after he encounters the alien.
*One of my favorite moments in the movie is watching Oj’s horsemanship which is just astonishing, and I haven’t seen anyone talking about this. He is really good at training horses, and we get some idea of this when we see him after his leg is injured. He makes Lucky lay down so he can mount, a move we saw Otis Sr. practicing with Ghost at the beginning of the film. And then there’s the country western music playing as he and his trusty steed, Lucky, ride flat out across the plain as they are chased by the alien. It is a rousing classic western movie moment. (It’s also a sly reference to Oj Simpson’s white Ford Bronco slow chase in LA in 1994.)
*It took me a minute to understand the plastic horse thing. The plastic trailer from the horse is holding its aperture open (imagine if you swallowed some string and a piece of it was sticking out of your mouth) which is part of the reason it drops bloody “spoor” over the Haywood ranch. Normally when the alien drops items it can’t digest, those drops are clean and unaccompanied by other waste, but not this time because the plastic horse being lodged in it wouldn’t let its aperture close, and yes all of this sounds thoroughly disgusting and Imma stop now!
*It also took me a third viewing to figure out why the creature popped at the end because my memory of what happened was unclear. You think you remember stuff pretty clearly but…no.The alien was actually able to swallow the giant balloon of Jupe, which popped inside it. and yeah, that’s gross too…
*All-time favorite moment: Recognizing the “Akira Slide from one of my favorite SciFi movies. It says so much about Peele that he was giddily happy to add that scene and delighted that everyone recognized it!
*Agua Dulce is the name of the valley in the movie, which is actually a real place in California. The name translates as “sweet water”. Sweet Water is a very popular name in the US but it’s also a Horror movie from 2021, where a mother tracks the serial killer, who took her child, to the town of the same name, where she encounters a supernatural conspiracy.
*I also love the fact that ALL the characters of color survived to the end of the movie, and they survive by being smart and brave, and not sacrificing themselves to save a white character who did something stupid. They act the way we imagine we would in such circumstances. A running joke in the Black community is if Horror movies starred an all-Black cast, the movies would only be about thirty minutes long. There’s the scene where Angel thinks to wrap himself in barbed wire to make himself inedible when the alien comes after him, and the scene where Oj has a choice to get out of his truck and make a run for the house or stay in his truck. He decides to sleep in the truck! We didn’t have to waste precious energy yelling at him to stay in the truck.
*One of the reviewers I saw came up with a pretty intricate theory on the movie’s themes that I hadn’t heard from anyone else. He thought that the movie was about racism and white supremacy. The alien is white and acts like a plantation overseer, watching over its territory from on high, and swooping down to terrorize these PoC. But when the people of color (Angle, Em, Oj) banded together they were able to defeat the monster.
But these are not hard and fast things to believe. Just some stuff I was thinking while watching the movie. Peele himself says that the movie covers a lot of ground so any themes that people pick up on are probably correct (and probably say more about the viewer than the film).
Okay, now I’m done. I had to re-write this since the last time because after watching the movie a third time I picked up on a lot more stuff because I can pause things to write stuff down.
Next week: time for other stuff.