[Fantasia 2020 Review] 'Lapsis' is an Anxiety Fueled Examination of the Existential Horror of Blue-Collar Workers
Gamification exists throughout our lives beyond our game consoles and serves as a means to educate, engage, and most importantly, make money...
...Businesses integrate game-like qualities into promotional material, websites, and even employee required tasks all as a way to trick consumers and workers into completing objectives for the benefit of the company. Every “player” falls into one of four categories. A lesser seen player, the Achiever, lives for incentives and learning the quickest, bestest routes. The equally unique Explorer seeks out every secret and hidden reward in the game. The most common type of gamers, the Socializers, find enjoyment in playing with other people and embrace cooperation and camaraderie. The rarest type of player, the overly competitive Killer, not only wants to succeed, but also wants everyone else to lose. Only the Killer may reach the top as they scale the heights by climbing on the defeated bodies of all other competitors. A Killer might be a good consumer to market to, but what happens when the business is the one playing for keeps?
Making its International premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, writer/director Noah Hutton’s Lapsis gives the audience an anxiety fueled sci-fi dramedy and an interesting examination of the existential horror of blue-collar workers, corporate malevolence, and the American reliance on the gig economy. In the “parallel present,” a company called Quantum released a new type of computer which not only touts the high speed necessary to properly enjoy the Internet, but also holds the rights to correct information and withhold necessary knowledge from all non-Quantum users. The opening of the film shows this malevolence at work: without a Quantum, a person will not know the correct parking schedule and therefore earn a fine. The audience can also assume the withheld knowledge and the punishments extend far beyond parking tickets because Quantum forces a monopoly and complicates life for anyone who does not cave to the pressures of consumerism.
The complexity of Quantum requires large cables to snake through the wilderness and connect large space-age looking containers. The physical and never-ending requirements of these cables creates a new job in the gig economy. So, like Uber and Task Rabbit, people sign up for “cabling” and spend their weekends working as “cablers” hauling heavy cable through nature. The film holds some interesting visuals when compared to other dystopian or social fictions as it largely takes place in lush forests instead of technologically advanced cities. The juxtaposition of the cables snaking their way through nature adds a nice touch as we see the characters compete against each other, robots, and even nature.
Lapsis gives quite a bit to unpack; the story covers familiar themes of humans imposing themselves on nature, technology replacing the little man, and profit over people. However, the heart of the film arises when the main character becomes forced to recognize the injustices of his world. The film touches a lot on wage theft and the exploitive nature of the gig economy, but don’t worry, Lapsis will not beat you over the head with heavy-handed commentary. The genre-blending film mixes in enough comedy to bring a lighter approach to the subject. Hutton wants the audience to really think about the dangers technology holds over the working class, but he also wants to entertain you.
Ray (Dean Imperial) needs money to help his brother Jamie (Babe Howard) who suffers from the mysterious disorder of Omnia, a severe fatigue-causing disease only the wealthy seem capable of treating. Imperial is well cast in his first feature-length role and gives off a bit of a New York-mobster vibe even though his character desperately wants to pursue a legal lifestyle. He wants to earn money to help his brother, but he refuses to take a shifty job to make ends meet. Ray comes from a world where he lives paycheck to paycheck, so a family illness quickly cripples his existence as he struggles to care for his brother. He is tired of his life and wants to get to a point where his brother is not just surviving but thriving. So, Ray decides to become a cabler.
His life changes when he purchases a “medallion” from his less-than-legal friend Felix (James McDaniel), which allows Ray to access the routes necessary to complete cabler tasks. However, the illicit device also provides Ray access to areas unavailable to the beginning cabler and our blue-collar hero soon begins uncovering the shadier side of the business. Eventually teaming up with fellow cabler Anna (Madeline Wise), Ray learns about the extreme pressures and dangers which come with the job. Time restraints and being under constant surveillance makes mistakes likely and punishments heavy. As the cablers rush to complete their assigned routes, they must obey commands from their medallions which double as a GPS and body tracker, telling the people when they can rest, where they can walk, and even when they are allowed to use the bathroom. If the glorified Fitbit was not enough, automatic cabling carts race alongside the human employees, threatening to steal routes and therefore income.
Most of the film follows a well-paced trajectory as Hutton does a fair amount of world-building, though the last part struggles to keep up. Even in the slower moving parts of the film, the director unfurls quite a few interesting surprises and the likeable characters played by Imperial and Wise encourage you to stick with the journey. Overall, Lapsis never loses the goal of entertaining nor the director’s desire to approach technology advancements from a working-class perspective.
Lapsis will be available On-Demand through Fantasia throughout the course of the festival.
By Amylou Ahava
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