Landscape with the Invisible Hand (Sundance) review

Cory Finley’s Landscape with Invisible Hand is a unique, cerebral alien invasion story told with style and intelligence.

REASON: In the near future, aliens have taken over the earth and the economy will be destroyed. The upper class lives in floating sky domes, while the working class toils on the ground trying to get by in a world where virtually all industries have ceased to function. In this impoverished future, a sensitive teenager (Asante Blackk) navigates first love, the need to express herself creatively, and her family’s relationship with the possessed aliens.

REVIEW: Landscape with invisible hand is unusual for an alien invasion story. Based on book by MT AndersonCory Finley (Thoroughbred and Bad education) depicts a foreign takeover that happened without any form of violence. Instead, their superior technology and business acumen allowed them to make deals with the richest, most influential people, and now they have their hands (or flippers) in everything.

The aliens in this look almost comical. They look like slimy coffee tables (as one character describes them), and they communicate by rubbing their flippers together. They are not a physical threat, but they have made the real people so rich that no one questions the dominance of their species.

In this way Landscape with invisible hand almost feels like a feature film The Twilight Zone episode, complete with a theremin-heavy score by Michael Abels. It has no violence or carnage, but instead tries to depict what life is like for a family living under occupation. Our hero, Asante Black’s Adam, is a teenage painter who compassionately convinces his mother (Tiffany Haddish) to take in a homeless family because he is in love with daughter Chloe (Kylie Rogers, who plays the young Beth Dutton on Yellowstone).

Desperate to make ends meet for both their families, the two agree to live stream their relationship with the aliens, as the race is fascinated by human courtship, incapable of love or sexuality. There’s a lot going on in Finley’s film, which starts out as a sweet teenage romance but eventually evolves into an upstairs/downstairs story where Adam’s mother has to agree to “marry” an alien to support the family. This leaves Chloe’s family (Josh Hamilton and Michael Gandolfini) angry that they are now lower on the totem pole. Finley uses this to examine and satirize the class structure, with Chloe’s family labeling Adam’s family rich even though they have virtually nothing.

Undoubtedly an alien invasion film unlike anything done recently, it’s intelligent, cerebral sci-fi anchored by stylish direction and a great cast. Black is best known for This is us, and his Adam is a likable, sweet lead. His chemistry with Kylie Rogers is pitch-perfect, and she becomes more pragmatic as their relationship becomes more transactional as they become less celebrities to the alien race thanks to their live streams. Tiffany Haddish (who also produced) has perhaps her best dramatic role to date as Adam’s mother, who is forced to make unthinkable compromises to provide for her family, while Michael Gandolfini and Josh Hamilton find the right mix of pathos and comedy in their share.

Landscape with invisible hand is unusual for Sundance because it’s a major studio film (from MGM and Brad Pitt’s Plan B) that guarantees a solid release. Still, compelling material gives audiences plenty to chew on. Young audiences may make this a word-of-mouth hit, but older audiences will also find much to appreciate. It’s smart and stylish, with Finley once again establishing himself as a director to watch.


Related Posts