Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Part slowly unfolding mystery, part attack on exploitation in the gig economy, Lapsis is a character-driven drama with some smart comic moments." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

Space opera and dolled-up fantasy aside, there are two types of science fiction: the classic sort, in which a problem caused or brought about by science is solved using science, and the satirical sort, in which an extrapolated future or alternative present is imagined as a means of commenting on current concerns which are difficult to address directly. Lapsis is a film of the latter type, and its gently paced, low-fi approach should make it accessible to a wide audience.

Dean Imperial plays Ray, a middle aged guy with thinning hair who is carrying a bit more weight than he used to and has seen some of his dreams drift out of reach, but who is, broadly speaking, getting by in life. Ray's problem is that his younger brother Jamie (Babe Howard) is suffering from an emergent form of chronic fatigue syndrome called omnia, and it's getting worse. on good days he can still do quite a bit, but he can't hold down a job, and Ray finds it difficult to do so whilst looking after him. What he really wants is something flexible that will allow him to earn enough to get Jamie through experimental treatment in a private clinic - so he looks into cabling.

Quantum computing is really essential of you want to do anything useful these days, explains Jamie - talking, perhaps, not about real quantum computing but abut whatever is being sold as such, the latest upgrade made necessary by a trend for increasingly bloated online content. Ray is something of a technophobe and doesn't really care about all that, but he does like the idea of getting paid to walk through the countryside trailing cable after himself - even though he's not really the hiking type, it sounds like easy money. To skip the long waiting lists for a medallion that licenses him to do the job, he buys a second hand one from a dodgy dealer. and this is where things go wrong. "Welcome, Lapsis Beeftech," says an electronic voice as he signs in - and if the name weren't embarrassing enough, it turns out that its previous owner did something that made other cablers want to attack him on sight.

Part slowly unfolding mystery, part attack on exploitation in the gig economy, Lapsis is a character-driven drama with some smart comic moments filmed in the quiet woodlands of upstate New York. The job that Ray is doing may not altogether seem to make sense, but the fact that he doesn't understand it either provides perfect narrative cover for that. Other cablers, who often camp together and share food along the trail, use complex phrasing and jargon in such a casual manner that he finds it difficult to interrupt with questions. Only after encountering the spiky yet sympathetic Anna (Madeline Wise) does he begin to get a picture of the legacy he has inadvertently bought into, at the same time as developing an understanding of labour rights and why he might have an important role to play in securing them.

A traditional whitebread American of the sort who has always believed that decency and hard work will be enough to guarantee him a reasonable standard of living, Ray is just the sort of nice guy who is first up against the wall when the economic revolution comes. In this case it takes the form of cabling robots ambling past him in his sleep. Other cablers set traps for them, but get caught and you're out of a job. Ray is simply perplexed, watching himself being replaced by something he doesn't understand.

The robots are too cute for it to be accidental. It may be a designed-in protective consideration. It certainly has an impact on the audience, encouraging us to feel sympathy for them, which becomes important in the final act. Are they, ultimately, all that different from the human cablers? Do humans distinguish themselves by their capacity for resistance, inevitably placing them at odds with market forces? Both seem vulnerable to misinformation, to disruption. Ray gradually becomes suspicious about the quality of treatment his brother is receiving, and we encounter more than one kind of pseudoscience alongside the futuretech presented as real. Both have close analogues in the mundane world. Lapsis is a subtle, unshowy kind of film, but it hits its marks very well.

One of the more unusual films at Fantasia 2020, this film seems takes the same calm, orderly approach to big subjects as writer/director Noah Hutton's previous documentaries. It reveals its secrets almost in passing. A world away from the clich├ęs of popular science fiction, this is the real thing.

Reviewed on: 10 Sep 2020
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Lapsis packshot
After a series of two-bit hustles and unsuccessful swindles, Ray takes a job in a strange new realm of the gig economy: trekking deep into the forest, pulling cable over miles of terrain to connect large, metal cubes that link together the new quantum trading market.

Director: Noah Hutton

Writer: Noah Hutton

Starring: Dean Imperial, Madeline Wise, Babe Howard, Dora Madison, Ivory Aquino, James McDaniel, Frank Wood, Arliss Howard, Pooya Mohseni, Portia

Year: 2020

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: US

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