Wednesday 26 January 2022

On demand: "Lapsis"

 is an American indie with a genuinely original sci-fi premise, and the wherewithal to work it through - the sort of thing that in the pre-streaming era you'd stumble across on TV in the middle of the night, wonder what on earth it was, and why it was you'd never heard of it before. In order to get his sick younger brother expensive clinical care, out-of-shape stiff Ray Tincelli (Dean Imperial, whose fatigued rasp so recalls James Gandolfini the script eventually has to make winking reference to it) takes a gig laying metres of fibre-optic cable for a tech firm in the forests of upstate New York. Like almost any other genre movie that nudges its characters towards the woods, it gets unsettling from there, but what's unsettling proves altogether fresh. There are schisms in the labour force, creepy little cockroach-like robots scurrying about everywhere (played by actual conglomerations of nuts and bolts, rather than VFX), and growing doubts around the identity ("Lapsis Beeftech") Ray has been assigned on his handheld GPS device. It's clear writer-director Noah Hutton has integrated a decade's worth of news stories in writing this screenplay - about the erosion of workers' rights, the humiliations of the gig economy, and the way certain tech firms have imposed themselves on small towns as the Nazis once did on Paris. Yet this real-world savvy comes out in surprising places, and in surprising ways. The cablers may be obliged by their handheld devices to stay on a particular route, but the film they're in thinks nothing of stepping off the beaten path every once in a while.

For one thing, Lapsis stops entirely in the middle for quite a lively debate about free-market economics between the dumbly conformist Ray and co-worker Anna (Madeline Wise), a blogger who's taken this job to both finance and inform her ongoing inquiry into the inequalities of the system. Once revolution has been plotted and achieved, our heroes stage a raid on an organic wellness centre; and it ends with a pillow fight, some indication of how good-natured the film remains throughout. I could raise an eyebrow or two over the extent to which Hutton really seems in control of his plotting - the ending doesn't entirely satisfy every question this snaking narrative raises - but Lapsis is a lot of fun to watch, easily the most impressive sci-fi calling card since Vincenzo Natali drifted onto (and then off) radar. There isn't a single duff note among these performances - doubly surprising, given the budgetary level Hutton's working at. (The only immediately recognisable faces - and you'd have to have been watching a lot of television to recognise them - are Arliss Howard and James McDaniel, once of NYPD Blue; yet Imperial is such a great galumphing personality to encounter you wonder where he's been hiding out all these years, and why nobody's thought of taking a camera to film him before.) Best of all, Hutton succeeds in doing something breezily unexpected with the woods as a kind of overgrown Wild West - a new frontier, not so very far from the tech-cluttered civilisation in which we sit looking on.

Lapsis is currently available to rent via Prime Video.

No comments:

Post a Comment