Review: Lapsis Builds an Interesting Alternate Reality, but Lacks a Unique Perspective

It’s not easy to create a believable alternate reality in contemporary independent films; particularly if the world of the film deals with technology, the sheer volume of details to consider to make it work for one’s audience can be overwhelming to both budgets and scripts. In that respect, writer/director Noah Hutton gets credit for the originality of Lapsis, a film about the dangers of an unregulated gig economy and unfettered AI. Rather than build the story of Ray, who’s looking to earn some extra cash to support his younger brother, around something like the very real Uber or its ilk, he begins working for a fictional company called Cblr (spoken: cabler) in a world where their connection points around the country facilitate access to a new technology system society is adopting en masse. His brother suffers from something called “omnia” that’s described as a fatigue disorder but presents like the general malaise of a generation raised on privilege and plenty. That the resulting story, a statement on everything from the power of unionized workers to the ways technology has infiltrated our lives, feels more on-the-nose and trite than of-the-moment and insightful, is the result of a script that doesn’t quite know what to do with the originality of its premise.

Image courtesy of Film Movement

Ray (Dean Imperial) works hard and looks after his brother, Jamie (Babe Howard), but he can’t quite drum up enough funds to send Jamie to a clinic that’s renowned for its innovative treatment of omnia. So he attends a brief training to begin running routes for Cblr, a sort of freelance gig that offers flexible hours and decent pay; all Ray will have to do is lug actual cables through unincorporated countryside—mostly forested—along a designated route, adjusting the cables at each station along the way. It’s all just ambiguous enough to be intriguing, even if it never quite makes sense. An entire economy has sprung up around this new technology, from tent cities along the most popular routes to locals who franchise supply shops on the outskirts of said tent cities, capitalizing on the needs of the community. Hutton doesn’t skimp on the satire here, from the company tour guide who touts these encampments as the company’s contribution to local economies (as opposed to, you know, a response to a failure to provide basic resources or a livable wage) to the “woke” new company CEO who, in a slick company promo piece, reassures her workforce that she’s “listening.” Though all this is done skillfully enough, there’s nothing particularly new here to indicate Hutton has any unique perspective of which to speak.

Once Ray is set up with a medallion (that he secures in less than legitimate ways), he’s able to begin his first route, one that’s not terribly physically demanding but will net him a few thousand dollars. Like cab drivers, his medallion is the token—or in this case an online identity—one needs to do the cabling work; it carries all one’s assignments and records, handles payments straight to his bank account and retains the “points” he earns along the way to exchange for goods and supplies. So much of Lapsis is spent explaining it all, from how points work to how Ray might’ve ended up with a medallion still attached to someone else’s identity, that half the film is over before it feels like there’s anything resembling a conflict to navigate or confront. Eventually, Ray is on a particularly lucrative route when he crosses paths with another runner named Anna (Madeline Wise), a character whose backstory, once it’s discovered, feels like the most shoehorned element in a film with more than a few of them. The stakes are eventually raised by the final act, as Ray, Anna and Jamie become something like activists engaged in the effort to bring Cblr down, but even this gets bogged down in backstories that take explaining and ultimately take away from the adrenaline rush of a revolution.

Lapsis has played film festivals like SXSW and Fantasia, and there’s no doubt that in those quirky movie bubbles, it surely played quite well (how I would’ve loved to see this from a seat at an Alamo Drafthouse!). Removed from that ideal environment, however, there isn’t much to boost the film into the must-watch zone in its own right. Until now, Hutton has primarily been a documentary filmmaker; Lapsis marks only his second narrative feature film, which could be why it leaves much to be desired in the form of a defined voice or point of view. There are other films that do similar things he’s attempting here, and to better, more effective ends.

Lapsis is now streaming via Music Box Theatre’s virtual cinema. A portion of your rental goes to support the venue while it’s closed.

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Lisa Trifone