We are living in a strange time. Like something out of a horror film, most of the world has been ordered to stay indoors and have as little contact with other humans as possible. While for most this means that they can no longer work, I have been fortunate enough to continue work as usual. Because of this, my time to watch and review films has not changed any. Still, I do want to find some time for myself to turn my brain off for a bit. The latest film to afford me that opportunity is Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe.
Alice is a senior plant breeder and engineer who has created a new species that is able to produce a feeling of happiness in anybody who waters it, speaks to it, and takes care of it regularly. After breaking company policy and giving one of these plants to her son, Alice soon realizes that it may be responsible for some unwanted effects, as well.
Before heading into Little Joe, I was completely unaware of any details about the film, staying away from any kind of trailer or even further plot synopsis than was on the DVD artwork. With that in mind, I was still open to a entertaining experience from a filmmaker who I was also unfamiliar with.
Little Joe starts off interestingly enough. We are introduced to Alice (Emily Beecham, “Into the Badlands”) and her lab partner, Chris (Ben Whishaw, Paddington 2) and we quickly learn of their new, experimental plant. This plant is to create feelings of happiness in its owner and is a surefire way to combat depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses in the not-so-distant future.
It becomes clear early on, however, that perhaps the plants are becoming responsible for some other, more peculiar side effects, not only in humans, but also animals, other plants, etc.
As the story unfolds, we learn that the pollen of the plants does indeed make the people who inhale them happy, but they are also having a much more serious effect, as well. Because they are genetically modified, these plants cannot reproduce on their own. Take away that common function that all living things have and what happens?
In the case of Little Joe, what happens is the plants find another way to sustain their species. Only, it is not done through the growth of new plants. With risk of spoiling the film any further, I will just leave it at that.
While this idea seems rather interesting on paper, Little Joe seems to just drag on a bit too much for me, personally. The 105 minute runtime already seemed a rather daunting task before ever pressing ‘play,’ but it became even more so as I realized the pacing of the film was really never going to pick up.
The acting by both Beecham and Whishaw is impressive enough and the entire cast of their costars was just as impressive. Additionally, co-writer/director Jessica Hausner, and her team managed to create a tense and suspenseful environment with a rather odd score.
The use of high-pitched squealing, for lack of a better term, coupled with something that sounded like banging and pops, mixed with dogs barking lend a hand in setting the tone, making the audience feel uneasy. Other times, the soundtrack was full of drum beats and flute-like wind instruments, sounds surely not heard in horror or thriller flicks very often, if ever.
Little Joe at Home
Little Joe is available now on DVD and Digital from Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film not rated. It is presented in a Widescreen 1.85:1 format with an English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track.
The only bonus material featured on the home release is a Q and A session with actress Emily Beecham and filmmaker Jessica Hausner.
Little Joe features a talented cast and a promising storyline, but the film just sadly never delivers the payoff I was looking for.
It contains elements of The Happening and even more so, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Those traits, mixed with the good acting and unconventional soundtrack were not enough to make this sci-fi thriller any more enjoyable, however.
My final rating for Little Joe is 1.5 beautiful flowers out of 5.