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Lapsis – movie review

The gig economy has grown exponentially in recent years. So much so, concerns are now being forcefully voiced about its actual and potential dangers. Director Noah Hutton taps into those fears as he takes audiences on an intriguing and sometimes frightening journey into a digitised future in Lapsis.

Lapsis has something in common with one of my favourite indie films, Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004). They both share some sci-fi elements, but it’s more their look-and-feel. Like Primer, Lapsis is a little rough at the edges. But that gives it a truthfulness and edge that really suits the material.

It’s the not-too-distant future. Ray Tincelli (Dean Imperial) works a delivery job in Queens. He’s also caring for his brother Jamie (Babe Howard) who suffers from Omnia, a new debilitating condition similar to chronic fatigue syndrome. Ray feels his care might not be enough, and Jamie would be better off in a professional facility. But that takes money – and with the delivery company shutting down suddenly, Ray needs options. He finds one with the assistance of his friend and street hustler Felix (James McDaniel).

A new phenomenon called quantum computing (already an exciting field of real-world research) is revolutionising the world. The quantum computers run from huge cubes spread across the country. To improve the network, they need to be connected to each other via cables. A new job – cabling – has sprung up, giving people a potentially lucrative new source of income. But it’s all run by cabling companies via apps, kind of like Uber. The cabling companies have a variety of entry requirements that would normally mean Ray would be facing a long wait to get a cabling “medallion” (which is, of course, a digital token). But Felix is able to short-cut all that by supplying Ray with a black market medallion.

Armed with his medallion and some basic cabling equipment, he sets out to the woods on his first weekend as a cabler. When he gets to the starting point, he checks in and discovers his “trail name” is Lapsis Beeftech. This initially seems like a stroke of good fortune, since he has thousands of  “points” on his account. He uses them for treats at cabler camp sites, and for upgraded cabling equipment. But he soon finds his fellow cablers become hostile at the mention of Lapsis. He seeks assistance from the kindly Anna (Madeline Wise), who clues him up on the ins and outs of cabling. Ray soon discovers the human cablers aren’t his only competition. The company employs robot cablers, supposedly to “motivate” the humans. But being passed by a robot can mean financial ruin.

Lapsis is at its best when it follows Ray on his cross-country journeys to attach cables. It gets bogged down in a couple of spots though when Hutton (who also wrote the screenplay) has his characters earnestly discussing workers’ rights. I get that workers’ rights is the point of the film, but these scenes stop the narrative dead. These flat spots are few though. Hutton cleverly taps into themes of both man vs nature, and man vs machine. And it’s pretty clear where he comes down on those issues. But then what are we to make of the enigmatic – and kind of creepy – final shot? Could Hutton be admitting defeat? Or is it another jab at the insensitivity of modern capitalism?

One side note. Along with writing, directing and editing the film, Hutton also provides the wonderful soundtrack. It was a highlight of the film for me.

Dean Imperial was a writer on the short-lived TV series Imposters, and makes his feature-film acting debut here. He basically has to carry the film as Ray, and does a sterling job – even allowing for a few less-polished moments. The more experienced Madeline West provides a neat foil as the rather cynical Anna. Babe Howard (another acting debutant) gets some nice moments as Jamie, as does Dora Madison as Felix’s off-sider Erica. And although he only has a few scenes, James McDaniel (The Deuce) is fantastic as Felix.

Lapsis is a quirky but sharply observed comedy. If it were 10 years ago, I’d say it was almost absurdist. But Hutton has his finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist, giving the film a relevance and urgency that can’t be dismissed.

David Edwards

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