Lapsis REVIEW – A Chilling Vision | Nightstream 2020

Lapsis contains expert world-building and prescient social commentary, but falls short in the storytelling department.

Image from film

Quantum Computing has taken society by storm. Ray (Dean Imperial) is a blue-collar New Yorker and small-time criminal who doesn’t care for the technological hullabaloo. He lives with his younger brother Jamie (Babe Howard), who suffers from chronic fatigue requiring specialist care. Lacking funds to pay for Jamie’s hospital expenses, Ray sketchily acquires a “Medallion” permitting him to work for a company called CBLR, attached to the username “Lapsis Beeftech.”

As a “Cabler,” Ray must manually lug spools of wire between huge, cube-shaped Quantum Computing conduits in the great outdoors, sometimes traveling through rugged terrain. He competes with other workers for the highest-paying routes and contends with pug-sized robots programmed to steal the routes if he isn’t working efficiently enough. Ray’s chubby physique makes treks difficult, but CBLR dictates when he can take breaks via an always-online mobile application used for selecting routes, tracking payment, and generally being a pain in the ass. To make matters worse, Ray’s username prompts uneasy if not downright hostile reactions from fellow cablers for reasons revealed later on.

Tackling workplace exploitation, economic inequality, and the ever-important voice of the worker, Lapsis overflows with ambition — even if the storytelling itself isn’t as gripping, nuanced, or emotionally impactful as it could have been.

Writer-director Noah Hutton’s chillingly plausible vision of the future is packed to the brim with detail and commentary. Technology, automation, and bloodthirsty capitalism have stripped humanity from humanity itself, forcing many people to find work wherever they can — including in CBLR’s sinister riff on the gig economy. Authority figures of all sorts seem hellbent on manipulation and scamming to make a profit, regardless of the moral cost, often concealing their shadiness between fake smiles and dishonest statements.

The film’s deliberate, low-key pace allows viewers to soak in the world and learn along with Ray, gradually picking up more information and witnessing the injustice bubbling beneath the sanitized surface. Lapsis is immensely effective at creating an eerie tone and sense of place that, despite some absurd touches, remains disturbingly grounded in plausibility.

From the hypnotic, almost otherworldly original score composed by Hutton, to the way the camera captures and juxtaposes the pastoral landscapes that Ray trudges through with the malevolent corporations operating behind the scenes, the film’s semi-futuristic setting is by far its strongest selling point.

Lapsis also features dry, deadpan humor throughout that eschews raunch in favor of emotionally muted matter-of-factness reminiscent of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, without the vulgarity. This style definitely isn’t for everyone, as characters converse in a droll fashion that feels separated from reality. However, the film’s dark comedy shines when depicting the cruelty of CBLR with artificial fluffiness — “No rest allowed!,” “Challenge your status quo!” reads the app on Ray’s phone — and through the bubbly mannerisms of the Gen-Z tree-huggers who serve as Ray’s cabling trainers.

Unfortunately, the film spends so much time visualizing the setting that the characters and story at its center aren’t nearly as affecting. Ray is the standout — cynical, yet empathetic, and devoted to his brother. Imperial brings an endearing, lived-in energy to the role, conveying Ray’s disorientation authentically.

Much of the dialogue, though, is extremely expository, with characters acting like vessels to convey information about CBLR and what should be done to fight back, without seeming like actual people in their own right. For example, Ray eventually meets Anna (Madeline Wise), a rebellious soul who’s eager to act out against CBLR’s corruption, but she’s largely present to educate Ray, and viewers, without truly standing out on her own terms.

Indeed, the film’s devotion to mood-setting undercuts the story’s tension during its latter half, the previously mesmerizing pace losing steam and sputtering to a stop when it should have been empowering and propulsive. The film’s climactic revelations ultimately rely far too much on convenience — feeling forced, rushed, and underdeveloped when the setting itself was so lovingly crafted.

There’s enough to enjoy in Lapsis that I can wholeheartedly recommend it to cinephiles who like their social commentary disquieting and darkly funny. While lacking the electricity of films tackling similar subject matter, like Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, Lapsis is an undoubtedly enjoyable, likely prophetic sci-fi flick.

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Featuring a beautifully realized futuristic vision and spotlighting relevant themes in the age of Amazon, Lapsis deserves your attention despite its flaws and missed potential.