Rightly so for a movie so big it scared off nearly every comer, you’re going to want to see “No” on the biggest screen possible, and with the best and biggest sound system. Set on a remote ranch in the scenic California desert town of Agua Dulce, the film centers on siblings OJ and Emerald Haywood (Kaluuya and Palmer), Hollywood horse trainers who experience a supernatural visitation. “No” was handcrafted for the kind of presentation you can only get in a real theater – preferably Imax, to take full advantage of the film’s striking production design and weird sound mix, which goes from strength to strength. a thundering, cinder-shaking roar to the kind of silence that isn’t so much stillness as a sonic void: the kind of silence in which you hear nothing but your own heartbeat. Kudos to sound designer Johnnie Burn (BAFTA-nominated for “The Favourite”), who deserves to be front-row for next year’s Oscars.
Before settling into its unsettling groove, “No” has to dispense with a superficial backstory involving the insolvency of the Haywoods’ horse-wrangling business—who still makes Westerns? – and the mysterious death of their father (Keith David) six months before the start of the main action. We learn that OJ is a terse type of cowboy; Emeraude is talkative, and often rather funny. There’s also a subplot involving a former child actor (Steven Yeun) from a 1990s sitcom starring a chimpanzee who has infamously gone mad (in a suitably gruesome and bloody way), but that narrative doesn’t quite go away. nowhere. Now the owner of a Wild West-themed tourist attraction in the desert, Yeun’s character feels locked into a tight story that’s probably better off without him. (Or, alternatively, it deserves its own separate movie.)
Things pick up speed as OJ and Emerald decide they need to document some of the unexplained aerial phenomena (UAPs) they’ve recently begun encountering around their ranch: a cloud that never moves and a dark shaped object. saucer that can be seen slicing it just behind the photogenic hills. Not just documenting, but potentially monetizing, by capturing footage they’ve dubbed the “Oprah shot”: a pristine, high-quality image that someone will pay for. When it becomes clear that they are dealing with something far stranger and deadlier than they originally thought, their plan shifts from earning a quick buck to saving Earth.
In that sense, at least, “No” feels like a step back, and in a good way. It’s an old-school creature feature, filled with a creature that causes blackouts, but defies the little green man stereotype. And it gets a big jolt of contemporary juice from the fact that it’s set in movie country. When OJ and Emerald realize they can’t handle the mystery alone, they team up with a twenty-something surveillance systems specialist from a chain of electronics stores (Brandon Perea) and a grizzled guerrilla cameraman with a hand-wound camera (Michel Wincott).
It’s a nod to the past, present and future of cinema all at once.
The acting here is quite good, especially by Kaluuya, who gives off the strong, quiet air of a modern Gary Cooper, all shrugs and monosyllables, and Palmer, who is his much more expressive foil. . But “Nope” ultimately belongs to its director, not its actors. Whether we’re watching heavy CGI in the sky or flashback scenes featuring a rampaging primate (played by Terry Notary in an impressive motion-capture performance) or simply Kaluuya on horseback – a new kind of western hero in a hoodie orange hoodie – Peele tells his story visually, not verbally. One particularly idiosyncratic sequence shows OJ and Emerald setting up a warning system of colorful inflatable dancers — the kind you sometimes see outside car dealerships — around the perimeter of their property. It’s quintessential Peele: memorably surreal, scary, and a bit silly.
The dialogue isn’t that prominent but does highlight the title word, spoken by OJ and Emerald in response to what they see. You might also find yourself saying “no,” once or twice, in a way that truly amounts to saying “yes” to the thrilling pleasures of “no,” which feel both old and new.
R In neighborhood theatres. Contains foul language throughout, violence and bloody imagery. 131 minutes.