Hannah Strong


Landscape With Invisible Hand – first-look review

Cory Finley returns with an eccentric sci-fi dramedy about a pair of teenagers who scheme to livestream their relationship for a curious extra-terrestrial audience.

For a long time sci-fi films have depicted the possibility of an alien invasion of earth as something terrifying. Buildings will crumble, humans will be subjugated, and all will feel the wrath of our extra-terrestrial overlords. In a refreshing change of pace, M T Anderson’s Landscape With Invisible Hand – adapted here for the screen by Cory Finley) imagines close encounters of the third kind as something much more mundane: the replacement of one oppressive system (human capitalism) with another (alien capitalism). In a near-future, Earth has been colonised by a group of coffee-table-sized aliens called the Vuuv – it rhymes with love – who have brought with them incredible advanced technology…which is only available to those with the deepest pockets.

For teenage artist Adam Costello (Asante Blackk) the Vuuv have had very little positive impact. Since their arrival his parents have split up, his mother (played by Tiffany Haddish) has lost her job as a lawyer due to alien advancement, food has been replaced with a cheaper synthetic version, and his school are implementing the Vuuv’s tech in a cost-cutting measure, replacing the human teachers. Things start to look up when he bonds with new student Chloe (Kylie Rogers) whose family lost their home due to intergalactic property developers, and he invites her to live in his mum’s basement along with her father (Josh Hamilton) and older brother (Michael Gandolfini) who are equally unenthused about the Vuuv.

The problems begin, for Adam and Chloe, when she suggests they livestream their budding romance for alien onlookers, who are fascinated by the human concept of love and will pay top dollar to watch relationship live feeds. At first they find it a lucrative option, but teenagers are fickle things, and as the weeks go on, Adam and Chloe start to experience friction which threatens their moneymaking scheme.

This concept is considerably more fantastical than Finley’s previous work, which has focused on murderous students and a crooked school teacher, but it’s evident that he has a sort of creative affection for grifters – though in this case, it’s a sort of accidental scam that quickly snowballs into a ludicrous nightmare of alien bureaucracy. Finley undoubtedly benefits from rich source material, translating Anderson’s book with what is quickly becoming his deadpan sense of humour. The world which these characters inhabit is mostly similar to our own, save for the inconveniences of alien neighbours lurking in the sky to which the majority of humanity have become accustomed.

It’s an ambitious story to tell, but Finley stages it with a lived-in familiarity. Moments in the world of the Vuuv show they have tried to replicate human design aesthetics (down to a very ’70s legal office) in a way that is slightly endearing but also hints at a comical aesthetic fascination mirrored by our own society, in which trends are recycled and that which was once considered cheap can soon become the height of luxury. The banality of the alien occupation is itself a comical concept, reflecting how one form of oppression can quickly be traded for another, and Asante Blackk does a fine job of playing the disaffected, drifting Adam, whose only real passion is his art.

If there is one gripe, it’s that the film itself moves at a glacial pace, yet when the climax arrives, it’s unsatisfying how quickly it seems to be resolved. Even so, it’s novel to see a sci-fi film which proposes a more mundane threat, suggesting that the evils of capitalism transcend our society and could easily be emulated by more fantastical overlords. The only real outlet is art – but that too can be bought and sold for a hefty price. Finley (whose excellent last film was snatched up and subsequently buried by HBO Max) might know a thing or two about that.

Published 30 Jan 2023

Tags: Cory Finley

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