Landscape with Invisible Hand is a unique story of survival under economic occupation of the Vuvv, an extraterrestrial race who aim to dominate humanity in every way except violence. Written and directed by Cory Finley (Bad Education, Thoroughbreds), the innovative, poignant film explores how humanity might handle an Earth-altering alien occupation and the resulting clash between class and commerce.
Based on the book by M.T. Anderson, the film starts with a series of drawings and paintings created by Adam Campbell (Asante Blackk). His art documents how times have changed over a 10-year period from when he began drawing until he turned 17 in 2036. It depicts life before and during the alien invasion by the Vuvv, who are described as gooey, four-legged, box-shaped aliens with hard, padded limbs that they use as a way to communicate. The rich sold out the community by buying into the idea of technological advancement that resulted in loss of human jobs, obsolete education, food shortages and poverty.
In school, Campbell meets Chloe (Kylie Rogers), whose family is homeless, and because he has a crush on her, Adam invites her and her family to stay at his house without asking his mother Mrs. Campbell (Tiffany Haddish).
The new living arrangements are awkward for everyone, particularly Chloe’s prideful father (Josh Hamilton) and bitter older brother (Michael Gandolfini), but the young couple come up with a way to make money by livestreaming their romance to the aliens who live on floating cities in the sky. Once the relationship breaks down, the teenagers are informed they are being sued for faking their romance. Mrs. Campbell has to meet with a high-powered Vuvv lawyer, Shirley, and which results in one of Shirley’s children spending a week with the Campbells to understand human love and connection. This sends both families into a spiral of chaos as they learn to live with this otherworldly entity while trying to survive life and one another.
It’s strange that the parents leave these adult decisions up to these kids with no counsel or anything. Adam and Chloe aren’t interesting as a couple, but they shine separately. He’s idealistic to a fault, which is why he’s in this legal trouble in the first place. Letting a stranger into your home just because you have a crush on them? And your mother agreeing to it? Yes, she is trying to protect her family from homelessness and make money however she can to support them. Now they are being sued for breaking a contract they didn’t know they were in.
The movie tackles issues of class, gender and economics, but the least talked-about subject is race. The dynamics between these families allow us to see bigotry manifesting, but the Campbells aren’t allowed to address it in an impactful way, which misses the mark on being 100 percent intersectional. Mrs. Campbell and Chloe’s father often argue; he insults her and insinuates that he is better than her, and she just puts up with it? How is that realistic in any capacity?
The production design by Sue Chan is the strongest element of Landscape with Invisible Hand. The genius of it all is the subtle and slight differences that make the environment seem lived-in. Without these design details, it would make buying into this concept challenging. It’s good to know that maybe the near future won’t look that much different (besides the alien invasion, of course).
This isn’t just an alien movie, it’s a political statement, in the vein of Neill Blomkamp or Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, or John Carpenter’s They Live. It’s not a film about killing aliens or outrunning laser beams but about the economic fallout of an alien invasion: How do you live with them, and how does this shape future human interaction? In this story, the Vuvv are stand-ins for oligarchy. These things even treat educated people like garbage.
Landscape with Invisible Hand slow-chronicles the decline of American society. The money and resources reside with the aliens who control every aspect of humanity. Schools being shut down so students can learn about Vuvv history at home, the human work force is being displaced and priced out by machines, people are forced to assimilate to a culture they know nothing about because the 1 percent dimed out the Earth. Sound familiar? It’s a reflection of the future if we don’t get it together.
There is a scene where Adam talks about resilience, which is the hallmark of human life. In the face of adversity, there is no choice but to meet economic oppression and political unrest head-on.
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