Review by Cole Groth
Thoroughbreds director Cory Finley is no stranger to weird high school movies. His latest, Landscape with Invisible Hand, is perhaps the hardest to decipher. An unusual trailer was the first piece of media that brought this film to my attention, and the original premise left me excited for more. Crossing various genres — including sci-fi, drama, romance, and comedy — it’s a multifaceted experience that’s undeniably original and worth a watch.
The many twists and turns of Landscape won’t be explained in this review. They’re much better seen and interpreted with your own eyes. To put it simply, this film takes place in a world taken over by benevolent aliens. After the technology they broke rendered most human jobs obsolete, two teenagers begin live-streaming a manufactured romance with the aliens in a desperate bid to make cash for their families. The relationships between the teenagers, families, and aliens are all explored in this vast story.
The script, penned by Finley, is an absolute powerhouse of indie science fiction. It’s very creative and manages to be quirky, while avoiding the traps of other films like this by not being annoying. There’s a real skill required to write many of the scenes contained within Landscape. Finley’s script contains multilayered people with realistic dialogue and depth. It’s full of rich satire that feels particularly poignant, with Finley continuing to prove his screenwriting prowess.
The heart of the film lies with Asante Blackk’s powerhouse performance. Blackk is a terrific leading man and will have a successful career ahead of him if he continues to act this well. He’s joined by Kylie Rogers, who’s also great. The two have a powerful dynamic with plenty of angst, chemistry, and friendship. They’re both complex characters, written and performed well. Joining the two leads are Tiffany Haddish and Josh Hamilton as Blackk and Rogers' characters' parents. Haddish has continued to build into more complex roles in the previous years and continues to thrive. Hamilton is excellent, too. Michael Gandolfini, Brooklynn MacKinzie, and William Jackson Harper appear in smaller roles, and all kill it as well. All around, this cast is stacked.
One of the unexpected standouts of Landscape With Invisible Hand is the score. Composed by Michael Abels, the music works wonders toward the overall feeling of the film. It’s synthy, funny, and dramatic. Like the film itself, it’s full of whimsy and complexity. The repeating motifs are fun to listen to, and make this stand out as one of the best-composed indie films recently. Other technical aspects are great, too. It’s well-lit, edited well, and has great visual effects.
Landscape with Invisible Hand is a movie best experienced blindly. It’s easily one of the most creative films of the year, and will leave you thinking. While its quirks are occasionally a bit overpowering of the ultimate message, Finley’s direction is assured, and continues to show his talents as a filmmaker. With a fantastic cast, good music, a strong script, and great pacing, this is deserving of a watch for anybody looking for a good, original movie.
Landscape with Invisible Hand releases in theaters starting August 18.