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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Landscape with Invisible Hand’ is All Over the Map But Has Quite the Sci-Fi Premise

A still from Landscape With invisible Hand by Cory Finley, an official selection of the Premiers program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The central concept of Landscape with Invisible Hand is a fascinating bit of science fiction. What if aliens conquered Earth, but mostly were there to engage in capitalism? It’s hard not to be intrigued by that premise. Such is what filmmaker Cory Finley is playing with in his latest feature, one of the more unique entries into the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a mixed bag, but the acting and overall originality ultimately save the day.

Landscape with Invisible Hand does not lack for ambition in the slightest. Now, does it always effectively convey that ambition? No. That being said, it’s a big swing and has the sort of hook that keeps you engaged. If it’s only sometimes as good as it possibly can be, that just means the movie wastes a chance at being great.

Set in the year 2036, the alien colonizers known as the Vuvv have been on Earth for the better part of a half decade. For those with a lot of money, it’s been business as usual, just in airborne cities, hovering like UFOs above those without means, who struggle to get by. The Vuvv essentially bought their way into power with fancy technology, as opposed to violence, so for the haves, they’re great. The have nots, however, aren’t so thrilled. Their lifeline is that the aliens are fascinated by human emotions, especially love, and will pay handsomely to watch that be broadcast directly to them, which young artist Adam Campbell (Asante Blackk) intends to capitalize on.

Along with new girlfriend Chloe Marsh (Kylie Rogers), Adam begins making enough money to buy his mother Beth (Tiffany Haddish) real meat. It seems to be working, except that he questions whether Chloe actually is interested in them. Then, they’re sued by the aliens for faking their love, which is only the start of where the overstuffed narrative goes in the second half.

The cast has an interesting challenge, as several of them are pitted in scenes against dodgy CGI aliens. Human on human, they’re largely solid. Asante Blackk and Kylie Rogers are pretty good, while Tiffany Haddish tones down the broad comedy effectively. Blackk is best in show, though each get their moments. Rounding out the cast are Michael Gandolfini, Josh Hamilton, Brooklynn MacKinzie, and more.

Filmmaker Cory Finley adapts the novel and directs here. His script is a bit too crowded, not always focusing on the most interesting parts, but like his prior features Bad Education and Thoroughbreds, it does best when focused on character. Finley’s direction does a lot with a little, budget-wise, but the aliens are depicted with CGI that’s well behind the times. It’s not a huge issue, but when there’s long conversation scenes between one of our protagonists and an alien (which rub tentacles together to communicate), it’s noticeable.

Landscape with Invisible Hand is messier than you’d like, but there’s enough here to warrant a view. A different approach might have generated a better film, but it’s still one worth seeing. It’s just hard not to feel like Sundance got an interesting flick, as opposed to one of their best recent ones, and that’s a bit of a shame.

SCORE: ★★★


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Written by Joey Magidson

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