Review by Sean Boelman
Feeling like a combination of Sorry to Bother You and Wild, Noah Hutton’s ambitious directorial debut Lapsis is the type of sci-fi satire that the festival circuit was built to discover. Thanks to a creative premise and witty dialogue, Hutton has delivered a film that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
Set in an alternate present day, the movie follows a group of gig workers as they are hired by tech companies to hike trails linking complex computer systems via cables. Arguably the biggest strength of this film is its world-building, as the movie does not feel too far off from something that could happen in the real world, but Hutton still does an excellent job of immersing the viewer in the dystopia of the film.
At its core, the movie is a stark criticism of the modern economy and the way in which labor is exploited by corporations led by billionaire CEOs. Although a majority of the film’s substance is delivered through dialogue that is admittedly quite dense, the script is focused enough to provoke the viewer’s thought as opposed to spoon-feeding the audience.
The script’s pacing is admittedly the weakest part of the movie. While there are moments that are quite funny throughout, the film uses much of its best material early on. The first half of the movie, as the audience is being introduced into the world of cabling, is much stronger than the second half, in which Hutton really starts to drive home its message.
That said, the film consistently works thanks to excellent character development. By making the protagonist of the movie an everyday guy, Hutton has used this story as a symbol of the struggle of the working class as a whole. Many members of the eclectic cast of supporting characters that Ray encounters along the way are amusing, but ultimately serve the greater purpose of making the protagonist more relatable and believable.
In his feature debut, Dean Imperial is absolutely wonderful as the protagonist. His dryly sarcastic approach to the character makes the film all the more likable and enjoyable, as he absolutely nails the comedic timing in the script. Madeline Wise is probably the biggest standout in the supporting cast, as her chemistry with Imperial is great.
On a technical level, the movie looks great because Hutton takes advantage of the film’s luscious green setting. A majority of the movie takes place in forests and wooded trails, allowing cinematographer Mike Gomes to create an immersive atmosphere. The warm liveliness of the backgrounds often contrast with the cold and robotic nature of the actions happening on screen, creating the intended discomforting sci-fi feel.
Lapsis fits the very definition of an independent film, complete with big ideas and quirky style despite a limited budget. However, first-time writer-director Noah Hutton brings a script so undeniably intriguing to the table that the movie is impossible to ignore.
Lapsis was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.