Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Noah Hutton
Stars; DEan Imperial, Babe Howard, Madeline Wise, James McDaniel, Arliss Howard, Ivory Aquino, Frank Wood.
Part sci-fi, part social satire that serves up a critical commentary on technology, the gig economy and how it exploits casual workers, and corporate greed, the low budget Lapsis is something of a strange beast. Over recent years the gig economy seems to have exploded, but there are some problems associated with the increased reliance of contracted casual employees. Some of these problems and social issues were explored in the recent bleak Ken Loach film Sorry We Missed You. Here writer/director Noah Hutton, who hails from a background in documentary filmmaking, again explores the issue from a different and somewhat unique perspective with his first narrative feature.
The film is set in a not too distant and unfamiliar future New York where quantum computers have become the next big thing. Investors have been making a fortune in the trading market. Cables and quantum computers enable superfast stock market trades – which was one of the key elements of the recent offbeat drama The Hummingbird Project. These superfast computers run from huge cubes spread across the country, but to ensure that the network operates efficiently they need to be connected to each other by cables. A new job, that of cabler, has been created, and it’s a job that initially promises easy money. Several cabling companies have sprung up and employ people on a casual basis to lay miles of cables and infrastructure across the landscape.
One such cabler is Ray Tincelli (played by Dean Imperial in his first feature film role) who works as a courier driver for a shady airport lost luggage delivery service. He is desperate for money to pay for the care and experimental treatment for his younger brother Jamie (Babe Howard, the younger half-brother of director Hutton also making his film debut here), who suffers from Omnia, a type of chronic fatigue syndrome. The treatment itself though may well be another form of scam.
Ray signs on with a company called CBLR. A work requirement is a digital token or medallion, and a lucrative black market in used medallions has sprung up around the industry. Ray’s friend Felix (James McDaniel) helps him source a medallion. However, Ray’s medallion used to be owned by a shady former cabler who went by the name of Lapsis Beeftech who has mysteriously vanished. As Ray makes his way through a leafy forest, laying miles of fibre optic cable, he learns more about the process and its pitfalls, the fierce competition between cablers, and about the tiny robots who tirelessly lay cable in competition with the human workers (and if a robot finishes the route first the worker doesn’t get paid). And he also discovers that many other cablers despise Lapsis because of past actions. Ray receives some advice and assistance from Anne (Madeline Wise), a fellow cabler who apparently knew Lapsis.
Imperial’s Ray is not the most likable protagonist, but he captures a rough blue collar working-class vibe and desperation that makes the character all too human and familiar. Wise is also good as the acerbic veteran cabler Anne.
Lapsis is a film of big ideas. The film deftly taps into themes of omnipresent technology, corporate greed, and workers’ rights, which gives the material some depth and complexity, and it gives it a slightly dystopian tone. The more we learn about cabling and quantum computing the more sinister it all seems. Hutton manages to overcome the limitations of his budget to create a distinctive world here. The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Mike Gomes, who employs a gritty and low-tech aesthetic that seems to suit the material. However, the pacing is a little uneven, especially in the middle sections of the film.
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