NIGHTSTREAM REVIEW: ‘Lapsis’ (2020) is a Grounded Sci-Fi Dystopia

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

While the film excels in its set-up, it fails to stick the landing in a satisfying way.”

Ostensibly set in an alternate present day, Lapsis (2020) introduces its audiences to a world where Quantum computers rule and the need has arisen for cablers, a new occupation wherein people hike up and down hills laying cables and hooking them up to giant boxes in the woods. The cablers, promised a big pay out at the end of their journey, are repeatedly told to “challenge [their] status quo!” and are forced to compete with cabling robots in order to keep their path and their paycheck. It’s a tech-driven dystopia supported by modern inventions, not unlike a plot that would be featured in the anthology television series Black Mirror (2011 – ). The film played at the virtual festival NIGHTSTREAM, following its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year.

What sets Lapsis apart from many tech-based dystopias like it is the film’s commitment to world building and its showcase of camaraderie among everyday people. As a part of the film’s set-up, the main character, Ray (Dean Imperial), is seen buying a medallion on the black market which will allow him to work as a cabler. Unfortunately, the medallion comes with baggage, as he’s been pre-assigned the name “Lapsis”, a moniker many of the other cablers seem to know and are wary of. As the mystery of who Lapsis is unravels, it becomes abundantly clear that the cabling industry is an even more exploitative and dystopian company than initially assumed, and the only way to fight against them is for the cablers to band together and use their combined knowledge to swing the odds in their favor.

In addition to the film’s more obvious commentary on the emergence of more and more tech giants and the continued exploitation of labor in the modern world, Lapsis also mirrors a sad reality for many Americans in its representation of healthcare. Although he is shown to be mistrustful of quantum computing at the film’s start, Ray is persuaded to take up a job as a cabler due to his brother’s debilitating illness known as “omnia,” a chronic fatigue ailment that requires lengthy hospital stays and expensive treatments. Whilst this subplot often takes a backseat to the intrigue of Lapsis and the cabling industry, it is a clear driving force for Ray’s work, and motivates some of his big decisions in the film.

Sadly, Lapsis’s interesting premise and smart social commentary are weakened considerably by the film’s abrupt ending. Just as the narrative seems to be ramping up to a big change in the film’s world, the film is over and the credits roll. Without giving too much away, the ending scene seems to imply the cyclical nature of a lot of the issues faced within the narrative, but that reading is a rather unsatisfying one. It’s a bleak and cynical endnote to a film that otherwise seems to promote working together as a means of overcoming modern society’s ills. In an anthology setting or as a short the ending may have worked better, but in a feature length standalone film full of fleshed out characters it just comes across as discouraging and cruel.

Writer and director Noah Hutton’s background as a documentary filmmaker focusing on social and political issues in the United States has a clear influence in the writing of Lapsis, resulting in an informed, and often nuanced, commentary within the film’s grounded sci-fi setting. Unfortunately while the film excels in its set-up, it fails to stick the landing in a satisfying way. It’s a film that cares more about its concepts than its established characters, and one that likely would have had a better execution in a shorter form. Nonetheless, it shows promise as a second narrative feature for the director, and it’ll be interesting to see how he continues to utilize his documentary background in future fiction-based endeavors.

Director: Noah Hutton

Producers: Taylor Hess, Jesse Miller, Joseph Varca

Cast: Dean Imperial, Madeline Wise, Babe Howard

Release Date: 1st October 2020

Header Image Courtesy of IndieWire.