Little Joe, never once gave it away/Thought he was a fern for a day
But I guess he had to bloom/ate everything in the room….
I thought I’d start my review with a parody of the Lou Reed song from the early 70s, because…well sure, the title of the movie. But also because everyone in the movie dressed like it was 1972!
[unrelated side note: go get the Lou Reed record “Transformer.” It’s amazing]
The premise behind this little British “horror” flick, was kind of fun. I thought long and hard about comparing this movie to another, because revealing that begs one big spoiler alert. But I looked it up and EVERY critic also compared it to this movie (except one critic that never gets anything right; she compared it to Frankenstein and Jurassic Park and gave it 4 stars). The movie that this movie wants to be is…Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s that basic premise.
The fact that it’s a bit understated is nice, and adds to the creepy factor. What also works is the terrific set design. It’s like you are trapped in an IKEA, and all the employees became zombies and locked you in, and you’re trying to find a way out. The costume design and vibrant colors also add to the stylized look. There’s a cold, sterile nature of the hospital like setting, that remind me of the same spookiness that enveloped me as a kid in 1978 watching Coma (Michael Douglas, Rip Torn, Genevieve Bujold).
What doesn’t work is…again…the Body Snatchers storyline. More time should have been spent developing the mother-son relationship in a more interesting way. In fact, my wife and I were both a bit confused by the ex-husband/father, and his role in the boy’s life. It’s as if his character were created merely to say to his ex at one point, “The boy has changed. He’s not the same kid he used to be.”
Here’s the story. A pharmaceutical company has created a flower that responds to affection and praise, and it gives off a mist that gives you a feeling of well-being. That sounds kind of corny, but that part of the movie is done well.
Unlike Body Snatchers, the people that smell this mist aren’t zombies that want to kill other humans. They just want to help the flower grow and thrive. This becomes what they care most about in life. Heck, the boy doesn’t even care if his mom picks up Chinese food from his favorite restaurant any more.
The performances from Emily Beecham and Ben Whishaw are solid. I loved how Whishaw’s personality changes ever so slightly. The problems with Beecham, lie mostly in how her character is written. It’s hard to buy what she does (or doesn’t do), later in the movie when things go south.
There are a few little flaws in the premise of it all, but there’s no problem letting that slide in a sci-fi flick. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t like any sci-fi films.
There’s a woodsy score by Katharina Woopermann, with lots of flutes and bongos. It’s annoying. Especially when they try to punctuate certain scenes with a few loud bangs of the bongo. What’s worse is the use of music from ‘70s Japanese artist Teiji Ito. It’s so shrill, annoying, and distracting. It made me think the sounds of Yoko Ono weren’t so bad. At first, it reminded me of the soundtrack of some scenes in Thoroughbreds (a movie from a few years ago that you should see). Yet in that movie, it added a level of tension that worked. A similar style was used in this year’s best movie — Luce. But for Little Joe, it’s so loud and obnoxious, you’ll just be wishing you had ear plugs.
This movie would’ve worked better as a Twilight Zone or Black Mirror episode.
If you want a movie that deals with synthetic happiness not being the answer — seek out The Kids in the Hall movie “Brain Candy.”
Since I started with a Lou Reed song, how about I end with a Devo one —
She sings from somewhere you can’t see/she sits in the top of the greenest tree
She sends out an aroma of undefined love/It drips on down in a mist from above
She’s just the girl, she’s just the girl/The girl you want.
2 stars out of 5.