The Pitch: In the rolling hilly countryside outside Los Angeles city limits, the Haywoods — descended from the first Black horserider/stuntman/movie star to ever be captured in motion — try to make ends meet as Hollywood horse wranglers. But when the family patriarch (Keith David, radiant as always) dies from a freak accident, the task is left to introverted Otis Jr., or OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) to keep the family ranch afloat, with the reluctant help of his fast-talking, hustle-happy sister Emerald (Keke Palmer).
At first, they resort to selling off the family horses to nearby Jupiter’s Claim, a hokey Wild West-themed amusement park run by former child star Ricky (Steven Yeun). But fortunes start to change when they realize there’s something above them, in the clouds, scaring the horses and shutting off the power whenever it passes. If they can just get the perfect shot of whatever it is — the “Oprah shot,” as they say — they’ll be rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams. Should be easy, right?
Everyone Has Their Own Story to Tell: If there’s one thing to appreciate about Jordan Peele’s output as a filmmaker — apart from the expert craft, performances, the beating core of artistic integrity that underlies every frame — it’s that he is, first and foremost, a student of cinema.
Get Out, as much as it was a killer horror pastiche that changed the landscape for Black horror, reflected on the horror cinema of the past and Black people’s participation in it, on both sides of the screen. Us was a knowing, winking throwback to The Twilight Zone, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and a host of other high-concept ’70s social thrillers. Now, three years and an incredibly cryptic marketing campaign later, we have Nope, Peele’s biggest, messiest, and most cinematically-literate entry yet.
If we’re to make the inevitable comparison to M. Night Shyamalan, another mainstream genre auteur whose films feel like the singular product of one person and their influences, Nope is undoubtedly Peele’s Signs: more than the “it’s aliens!!” angle, it’s equally ambitious and chock-a-block with every narrative and thematic bugaboo its filmmaker wants to touch on.
But it still feels unmistakably Peele: The nail-biting command of tension, the creaking, groaning sound design, the unexpected bursts of humor (Palmer is the MVP, hands down, effortlessly funny and riveting, especially as she gets the focus in the film’s final minutes) are all there. It’s just bigger and more, which fits once you realize that Peele is now fully in sci-fi blockbuster mode.