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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

‘Landscape With Invisible Hand’ Sundance Review – A Melancholy Fable of Human Resilience

War of the Worlds. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Independence Day. Signs. All of these films depict alien invasions as they are happening, but what happens after the fact? And what if, by some small miracle, we come to an agreement with the invaders and find a way to live alongside them? That’s exactly what Cory Finley‘s Landscape With Invisible Hand aims to find out, albeit to mixed results.

Taking place a few years after a hyper-intelligent alien race known as the Vuvv took over planet Earth, Landscape With Invisible Hand subverts expectations by informing us that they did so through soft economic power rather than brute force, bringing wondrous technology to Earth that only the wealthiest could afford. This technology rendered most jobs obsolete (neurosurgeons now work as highly-paid valets for the Vuvv, for example), leaving the rest of humanity to scrape together money in the tourism industry.

Our point of entry for this new reality is Adam (Asante Blackk, When They See Us), a teenage artist living with his mother Beth (Tiffany Haddish, who also serves as executive producer) and sister Natalie (Brooklynn MacKinzie). Adam makes a connection with his poverty-stricken classmate Chloe (Kylie Rogers, Yellowstone), who has been living in her family’s car under an overpass. After inviting her and her family to live in his family’s basement, Adam and Chloe begin livestreaming their courtship for the amusement of the coffee-table sized Vuvv, who find human love exotic and interesting and thus pay to view the livestream. However, when Adam and Chloe’s scheme goes sideways, Adam and his mother have to find their way out of an increasingly nightmarish alien bureaucracy.

If that sounds like a lot of information, well, it is. Based on M.T. Anderson’s novella of the same name, Landscape With Invisible Hand is essentially divided into chapters marked by various works of Adam’s art (courtesy of Atlanta-based artist William Downs). Unfortunately, Finley tries to cram far too much into Landscape‘s brief 94-minute runtime. The worldbuilding is effective, even for viewers unfamiliar with the source material, but the plot can be a bit scattershot, with the film struggling to find a central point of focus. Yes, the overall theme of human resilience is prevalent throughout, and yes, Adam is our main character, but there’s a lot of things to unpack in a film with too little real estate. Plot points in the first act resolve in order to make way for new ones, but Finley insists on keeping certain characters around that now feel superfluous to the plot. One could argue that these characters are necessary to the central themes, but while this may work on the page, it doesn’t always work on film.

Sundance Landscape With Invisible Hand

Asante Blackk and Kylie Rogers in Landscape With Invisible Hand, Courtesy of MGM

The Vuvv themselves are a sight to behold. Cold, logical and incapable of love (love is a singularly human emotion, after all), the Vuvv are brought to life via CGI courtesy of Erik-Jan de Boer (Okja). They communicate by rubbing their flippers together, using voice boxes to translate on their behalf. It’s a unique design that absolutely deserves kudos, even if the CGI isn’t particularly convincing. Still, it’s a much more technically ambitious production than Finley’s prior feature effort Thoroughbreds, so that deserves a special mention.

Melancholy and bleak in tone, one can admire Landscape for not going the traditional Hollywood route with its extraterrestrial creatures. Try as our characters might, there is no journey of emotional discovery for the Vuvv. There is no light at the end of the tunnel in the hope for a better world. Our characters (and us by proxy) are stuck here and have to make the best of it. As for the performances, Blackk carries the emotional brunt of the film, delivering a quietly moving performance that elevates the picture. Haddish, uncharacteristically playing a more dramatic role, gives one of her best performances to date as a mother doing anything she can to help her family in the face of absolute hopelessness.

Landscape With Invisible Hand paints a portrait of a fascinating world that could have done with a longer runtime to help flesh out some of its ideas. The micro-level approach is fine, but there’s just too much here to fully absorb. Still, performances are strong and aid a so-so screenplay, making it difficult not to be captivated by this strangely engrossing new status quo.

Landscape With Invisible Hand had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and will be released by MGM later this year.

The post ‘Landscape With Invisible Hand’ Sundance Review – A Melancholy Fable of Human Resilience appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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