2021, NR, 104 min. Directed by Noah Hutton. Starring Dean Imperial, Madeline Wise, Babe Howard, Ivory Aquino, Dora Madison, James McDaniel, Frank Wood, Arliss Howard.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 12, 2021

It's easy to forget that it's only been 20 years since under half of American households owned a computer. Even on the verge of the quantum revolution, many people are still living analog existence, and that's the core of techno-economic-drama Lapsis.

Lapsis lives on the central performance by Dean Imperial as Ray, and that life is undoubtedly vibrant and complex. He's a background player in his own world, making something like a living delivering lost luggage to its owners. He's a good guy, just a regular schlub, who only takes a job laying cable for the new quantum system (whatever that is) because he wants enough cash to send his brother to a clinic. His brother is sick with omnia, a syndrome with no known cause and a lot of symptoms, but he needs a medallion, and the only way he can get one is from local fixer Felix (McDaniel). It's a little grey market, especially since his medallion has someone else's name on it.

Omnia, quantum computing, keys, photons, Ray doesn't know or care about any of this. All he knows is that he's supposed walk from one big box in a field to another big box in a field, rolling out a trail of cable from a spool. It's kind of absurd, but he's just doing a job – one that sucks, with a voice on his cell phone yelling at him that his rest has been denied, or boosting him with you-go-get-em-champ corporate-speak encouragement.

Noah Hutton's savage take on how the gig economy grinds us down and keeps us down through constant motion was originally scheduled for SXSW. Instead, it got its delayed world premiere at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and a North American debut this week at Fantasia International Film Festival. Hutton doesn't hammer home a blunt message about how we blindly cling to the next big thing, but leaves it in quiet moments (like how New York State Pavilion's observation towers, residue of a future that never happened at the 1964 World's Fair, rust in the background). Instead, it's a more holistic study of modern absurdity, of how we were sold company stores, how readily we accept being pursued by our own technological successors. Quite literally, in Ray's case, as the company has robots doing the same route. Why not just use them, instead of people? That's the kind of question that's above his pay grade, and even the fellow schlubs who do ask them (on their mandated breaks) do so in between shifts that they don't understand. The only real rebel is Anna (Wise, playing everything as low-key as Imperial), whose route intersects with his and becomes his fast pass to political awakening.

Witty, astute, perfectly absurd in a plausibly grounded way, and political without feeling like a polemic, Hutton' quiet satire is merciless about life in the daily hustle - and a lesson about the power of the worker. If Ray can inadvertently kick back against the powers that be, what's stopping you?

Available as a virtual cinema release now. A version of this review ran as part of our Fantasia 2020 coverage.

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Lapsis, Noah Hutton, Dean Imperial, Madeline Wise, Babe Howard, Ivory Aquino, Dora Madison, James McDaniel, Frank Wood, Arliss Howard

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