Landscape with Invisible Hand is a weird and wonderful sci-fi film
Since the beginning of movies, filmmakers have wondered about what it would be like in outer space and what might happen if aliens ever visited Earth. Some have thought aliens would attack, and others thought they would come in peace, but what if they just came to dominate in a kind of bureaucratic way?
That’s the scenario at play in Landscape with Invisible Hand, set in the late 2030s after aliens known as the Vuvv have taken over Earth and essentially taken away the ability of humans to hold regular jobs. Adam Campbell (Asante Blackk) is a high school student whose mom, Beth (Tiffany Haddish), worked as a lawyer prior to the invasion. When a new student, Chloe Marsh (Kylie Rogers), tells Adam that her family is essentially homeless, he offers to take them in.
The Vuvv have students wear devices on their heads to teach them lessons about their species, but those devices are also capable of transmitting in the other direction. Chloe and Adam, who are already starting to like each other, decide to use the devices to transmit video of their budding relationship back to the Vuvv, who are willing to pay good money to watch people fall in love, an – ahem – alien concept for them.
Written and directed by Cory Finley and based on the book by M.T. Anderson, the film goes much further than that idea for a weird and wonderful sci-fi entry. The unusual title is a reference to the artwork of Adam, who uses drawing and painting as a creative outlet in the increasingly stifling world the Vuvv have fashioned. His artwork is featured in a variety of ways throughout the film, almost always to help move the story forward.
That story is one that combines the absurd with more grounded elements as different people try to figure out how to make their way in a world where they are not in control over their own lives. Each person handles the adversity in a different way, and Finley does a great job in showing how the tension between the humans and the Vuvv, and between the humans themselves, creates both opportunity and misfortune.
To that end, the film bounces back and forth between drama and comedy. While far from a traditional comedy, many of the situations are so out there that laughter is the only natural reaction. The design of the Vuvv and the way they speak are also sources of humor, and Finley and his team deserve a lot of credit for creating believable CGI in a lower budget film.
Blackk and Rogers are highly effective as their characters go through different stages of a relationship, the unusual circumstances of which allow them to explore romance differently than other stories. Haddish gives one of her better recent performance as the struggling-but-still-confident Beth, and Josh Hamilton is a great presence as Chloe’s all-but-defeated dad.
The strange way in which aliens are handled in Landscape with Invisible Hand makes for a consistently interesting and entertaining experience. Extra-terrestrials may be perceived as a higher life form, but in this film, they’re susceptible to the most human reactions.
Landscape with Invisible Hand opens in theaters on August 18.