Cory Finley’s Landscape with Invisible Hand is a unique, cerebral alien invasion story told with style and intelligence.
PLOT: In the near future, aliens have taken over the earth, and the economy will be ruined. The upper-class lives in hovering sky domes while the working class toils on earth, trying to make ends meet in a World where virtually all industries have ceased to operate. In this impoverished future, a sensitive teen artist (Asante Blackk) navigates first love, the need to express himself creatively, and his family’s relationship with the occupying aliens.
REVIEW: Landscape with Invisible Hand is unusual for an alien invasion story. Based on the book by M.T. Anderson, Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds and Bad Education) depict an alien takeover that happened without any violence. Instead, their superior technology and business acumen allowed them to make deals with the wealthiest, most influential humans, 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 aren’t a physical threat, but they’ve made the right people so rich that no one questions their species’ domination.
In this way, Landscape with Invisible Hand almost feels like a feature-length Twilight Zone episode, complete with a score heavy on the theremin by Michael Abels. It doesn’t have any violence or carnage but instead attempts to depict what life is like for a family living under occupation. Our hero, Asante Blackk’s Adam, is a teenage painter who compassionately convinces his mom (Tiffany Haddish) to take in a homeless family because he has a crush on the daughter, Chloe (Kylie Rogers, who plays the young Beth Dutton on Yellowstone).
Desperate to make ends meet for both of their families, the two agree to Livestream their relationship with the aliens, as the race is fascinated with human courtship, with them being incapable of love or sexuality. There’s a lot going on in Finley’s movie, starting as a sweet teen romance but eventually evolving into an upstairs/downstairs story, where Adam’s mother has to agree to “marry” an alien to provide for the family. This leaves Chloe’s family (Josh Hamilton and Michael Gandolfini) resentful that they are now lower on the totem pole. Finley uses this to examine and satirize class structure, with Chloe’s family labeling Adam’s family as rich, even though they have virtually nothing.
It’s undoubtedly an alien invasion movie unlike anything done recently, and it’s intelligent, cerebral sci-fi anchored by stylish direction and a good cast. Blackk is best known for This is Us, and his Adam is a likable, sweet-natured lead. His chemistry with Kylie Rogers is pitch-perfect, with her becoming more pragmatic as their relationship becomes more transactional, given that they become minor celebrities to the alien race thanks to their Livestreams. Tiffany Haddish (who also produced) has maybe her best dramatic role to date as Adam’s mother, who’s forced to make an unthinkable compromise to provide for her family, while Michael Gandolfini and Josh Hamilton find the right mix of pathos and comedy in their parts.
Landscape with Invisible Hand is unusual for Sundance because it’s a major studio movie (from MGM and Brad Pitt’s Plan B) that guarantees a solid release. Yet, compelling material offers the audience a lot to chew on. Young audiences may turn this into a word-of-mouth hit, but older audiences will also find a lot to appreciate. It’s smart and stylish, with Finley once again establishing himself as a director to watch.
Originally published at www.joblo.com