TSJ’s review published on Letterboxd:
Chewed up and spit out the tempered expectations I had going in, no doubt in part to avoiding all trailers. Peele as much as anyone knows that our assumptions will color how we hang on to each reveal, our attention rewarded almost every step of the way. Some flat comedy and a very brief side character only momentarily hinder the flow, a small matter in the totality of the film in a mostly great setup and near impeccable second hour. Hoyte Van Hoytema's 70mm gives the desert a level of depth and clarity maybe never seen in this setting. The handful of scenes in a Best Buy like electronics store are out of this world too, a marvel to look at when it wouldn't be with almost any other crew doing it. Cool to see that Peele likes Alien 3 in press covering Nope, as well as that Oppenheimer trailer in the previews. It could very well be Nolan's Mank, which I can tolerate with the mileage still to be exhausted from his last feature.
Most apparent in the first night sequence at the ranch is how masterful the sound mixing is, something that peaks in the second hour between music, screams, wind, debris, whatever aspect of flight we're witnessing. These vast exteriors are shot with the tension being that vulnerability from shelter point to shelter point, be it stables, vehicles, or buildings. All aspects of the film's technical design excel at creating the most tension possible in a way that naturally places the characters from one pivotal point to the next. Most importantly, the structure of the cut is grounded by the way the action is shot, how the edit connects the geography and plot nuggets on the strength of their impression. A great example is the turn to a foggy morning as it creeps in to overwhelm a character exiting a truck, the light occluded from behind the vehicle as our subject goes around the back to an environment more fully immersed when we come around the other side. As far as plot nuggets, how a villain is teased in a play on horror tropes before showing up far later in the film in a different context.
Most interesting to me is how animals play into the story. Our main protagonists are horse wranglers for Hollywood, a former child star, a Best Buy employee, and a legendary cinematographer. The former child star witnessed a horrific act of violence between both human/animal and animal/human on set, becoming a wrangler himself and making this tourist trap themed around a western he was on as a kid. He was buying horses from our lead, who's own bond known in some comment about a horse losing focus when he lost focus. The cinematographer obsesses in his den with what looks like macro footage of insects or fish and such. The leads turn to a social media pipe dream after Hollywood spits them out after another animal outburst on their watch. This comes together by the underlining arc of how the child star's animal experience will intersect with the UAP phenomena, the role he had his animals and fans in, and how the characters must pull through using the mechanical, digital, body, and other inanimate counters in this aspect of food, prey, taming, and primal psychology of arrangements between creatures that stalk and consume, trick, hide, and escape. There's this great parallel in the finale between these inflatables and main character under electricity and their own personal will in that moment, between a motorcycle and a horse.
Much has been made about the inclusion of Bible verse Nahum 3:6, about this vile spectacle - which the film is - but I've only seen one piece mention the broader role of the Assyrian capital Nineveh in Nahum, a clear stand in for Hollywood. Shoutout to Alissa Wilkinson from Vox.
"Just before this verse, Nahum describes Nineveh as a lion’s den, the “city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims,” a place with “galloping horses and jolting chariots,” full of bodies of the dead. Basically, Nineveh arrogantly chews people up and spits them out. So, Nahum says, God will do the same to Nineveh."
A clear reference to Hollywood, as well as our phenomena at hand. The business pushed our stars to chase a dark specter not looking to be found, bringing blood and destruction to not only their family ranch and legacy, but that tourist trap wild west town definitely flavored by a long gone concept of whiteness. There are two extremely horrific sequences in this film, one being the animal attack on set and the other being the mutilated digestion of old America under this ritual setting of a one man show in what's hinting at a singular animal sacrifice. It's far worse. On the funnier side, this fake attraction will soon be a real one for Universal. From EW:
"According to a release from the theme park, Jupiter's Claim — reconstructed by Peele and Emmy-nominated production designer Ruth De Jong — is a Santa Clarita Valley family theme park "predicated on the white-washed history and aesthetics of the California Gold Rush." It is owned and operated with "evangelical pride" by Yeun's Ricky "Jupe" Park, and "becomes a pivotal location as the characters seek to investigate mysterious, unexplained phenomena, leading them toward increasing danger and terrifying consequences."
While race is unavoidable when colored by not only Peele's artistic path and his characters, its not as relevant to this white viewer as it first was in Get Out or Us. There was one bit of weirdness from an older white lady about the OJ name, maybe one other thing I've just forgotten, but mostly just an exciting movie about real people, real siblings, the artist seeking that one perfect shot at risk of everything. Someone else could maybe dissect certain symbolism as it relates to more "sing and dance" aspects of being slaves to the system or animal attacks themselves, but I don't want to go there. The important part is that these layers are there in a horror/science fiction film that doesn't stray from itself. Power structures create victims under any willful or meek acceptance of that paradigm, like when Kaluuya's standing with his horse on set mumbling his way to losing control of the situation and getting fired. It's lights/camera/action for all of us each second in every relationship we have, certainly under extreme duress.
It's fine to say "nope" and stick your head in the sand. You've just gotta be able to snap out of it in the confusing haze of own perception. Don't look the beast in the eye, tear the damned thing apart.
"Woe to the bloody city!
It is all full of lies and robbery.
Its victim never departs.
The noise of a whip
And the noise of rattling wheels,
Of galloping horses,
Of clattering chariots!
Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear.
There is a multitude of slain,
A great number of bodies, countless corpses–
They stumble over the corpses–
Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot,
The mistress of sorceries,
Who sells nations through her harlotries,
And families through her sorceries." - Nahum: Nineveh, the Wicked City
Two great reviews from two real ones.