LITTLE JOE (2019)
Director (and co-writer): Jessica Hausner
Cast: Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw, Kerry Fox, Kit Connor, Phénix Brossard, David Wilmot
Alice, a single mother, is a dedicated senior plant breeder at a corporation engaged in developing new species. Against company policy, she takes one home as a gift for her teenage son, Joe. – IMDB
It’s never a good idea to play God and mess with the biology of any living organism as we’ve seen time and time again in movies of all genres. Little Joe plays as a science fiction fantasy drama with horror elements. It probably would most be related to films like Invasions of the Body Snatchers and yet, Little Joe, this new species of red flower that is both sterile and produces a fragrance that generates happiness looks a little like Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax’s Truffula trees (in a smaller flower version).
Little Joe is a slow-burn fantasy drama. Running at 105 minutes, the execution of pacing in this film could definitely have been polished further. A lot of the scenes do manage to leave enough space for the viewer’s imagination to wonder which way it could go as well as what the flowers named Little Joe’s real effect is. The mystery element is present giving it some fairly thrilling moments.
Little Joe is a reflection of how nature’s biology, no matter how it is changed, will always find a way to survive. Just like animals in the wild who adapt and change to protect themselves, Little Joe’s also manage to do the same. When discovering the “motives” of Little Joe (it does sound silly to think a plant has motives), its what gives the layers of the film. However, there is too much in the middle part of being stuck in the cycle of the after-effect of Little Joe and not so much progressing the story further, which makes it drag out a little too much before the finale. Its the technical elements here that works well like the design of Little Joe, the color palette, as well as how some of the scenes are done which gives it so much style.
There are only a few central characters which keeps the story tightknit and easy to follow. The main character is Alice, played by Emily Beecham who does a pretty decent job as she discovers that her experiment has a more serious effect than she anticipated. Her performance is one of the better elements of Little Joe as a while. Playing opposite her is Ben Whishaw as her colleague Chris who has romantic feelings for her. Ben Whishaw has the look to him that just shows off something strange is going on so it makes his character give away a little too much at times. At the same time, the other element of the story is who Little Joe is named after which is her son Joe, played by Kit Connor. Much like a lot of the very obvious character personality shifts throughout the film, its anything but subtle, which is odd.
All of those little issues with characters and performances and pacing can probably be overlooked however, Little Joe also likes to use the overbearing sound effects to create the jumpscare element or create an uneasiness. Subtle films (like this one or The VVitch or Vivarium) would benefit from letting those unsettling feelings come from the power of quiet scenes rather than bombarding the audience’s eardrums with an array of sounds which after a few times feels more annoying than unsettling.
Its a pity that Little Joe is somewhat of a disappointment as it had a lot of very nice technical elements and a premise that had a lot of potential to be good. However, the repetitive pacing and the over-deliberate need to make the characters act strange as well as the overpowering soundtrack wears it down. As good as the cinematography is and how the colors of both the species and the lighting here works, it feels a bit like style over substance. Of course, if you are fans of films I mentioned above, then this film might be for you.
Little Joe has one more screening at Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 20th at 5:15pm at Cinema du Parc. You can find more info HERE.