Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir-scr Jordan Peele
prd Ian Cooper, Jordan Peele
with Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Wrenn Schmidt, Keith David, Terry Notary, Jacob Kim, Donna Mills, Osgood Perkins, Eddie Jemison
release US 22.Jul.22,
UK 12.Aug.22
22/US Universal 2h10

yeun wincott david

Is it streaming?

kaluuya, palmer and perea
Filmmaker Jordan Peele takes another askance approach to a genre film, twisting the cliches to explore deeper meaning in resonant underlying themes. This one takes elements from both Westerns and alien-invasion movies to give the audience a false sense of familiarity before pulling the rug out. The result is disarming, terrifying and exhilarating, anchored in quirkily complex characters and, as the title suggests, a general sense of disbelief.
On a Southern California ranch that supplies horses that work in movies, siblings OJ (Kaluuya) and Emerald (Palmer) are grappling with the death of their father (David) in an inexplicable event. Things aren't quite right in the sky around these hills, and traumatised former child star Jupe (Yeun) is exploiting this at his neighbouring Wild West theme park. To document what seems to be an elusive UFO, OJ and Emerald bring in tech guy Angel (Perea) and contact reclusive cinematographer Holst (Wincott). And they begin to realise that it isn't what they think it is.
Rooted in the characters' perspectives, the film has fun with various mysterious goings-on. Bizarre things fall from the sky, the power dips and surges, and suspicious shapes move through the clouds. While skilfully mixings the comedy, red herrings, jolts and gnawing horror, Peele reveals things gradually, creating a series of ever-bigger kicks. This is echoed in the jaw-dropping nature of these discoveries for each of the characters, rendered with special effects that look eerily seamless.

Kaluuya and Palmer clearly relish playing on the differences between these siblings, as OJ's wry cynicism contrasts with Emerald's firecracker wit. Their tight bond comes through in offhanded moments so authentic that they feel improvised. So their interaction with other characters bristles with an us-versus-them vibe that echoes in the larger narrative. Even if he feels like he's roamed in from another movie, Yeun has superb presence as the lively Jupe, vividly played by the young Kim in unnerving flashbacks. And Perea proves himself a scene-stealer to watch.

After darkly comical opening scenes, Peele begins to stir in bigger topical elements relating to the entertainment business, although the scattershot approach makes it more insinuating than provocative. This includes pointed comments about Eadweard Muybridge, the anonymised Black horserider who appeared in one of the first film clips in history. And Jupe's extended back-story speaks to the excesses and costs of producing entertainment. But once OJ and Emerald spark this alien's pique, the themes seem to evaporate. Still, it gives us something vaguely meaningful to ponder during the thrillingly eye-catching final act.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 3.Aug.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall