For those unaware of the BBC turned Netflix TV Series Black Mirror, the aforementioned television anthology revolves around numerous distinct social political fables, that discusses on modern ideas and concepts in a satirical and playful manner. In recent memory, the show has been almost used as a label, to identity different types of media, based solely on their “futuristic” narrative descriptions and concepts. Whenever an artistic innovation is placed with this redundant label, usually the common expectation is for said piece of media to follow a more dry and observational perspective. While I frequently hate the idea of labeling a sub-genre with the title of an already pre-existing product, there are admittedly a few films that would fit perfectly with the listed description. For example, Jessica Hausner’s English language debut Little Joe may just as well hop on the bandwagon and become an honorary feature-length entry into Black Mirror’s extensive catalog of episodes.
Just like many other major contemporary Black Mirror episodes which comment on prevalent social issues, Little Joe is a literal spine tingling depiction of antidepressant hysteria. Hausner cuts out the bullshit, and delves deep with her aesthetic-driven storytelling from minute one. Largely told in a deadpan, monotonous tone, the execution is strangely reminiscent of the likings of an early Yorgos Lanthimos, and his signature direction with his depraved, emotionless performers. The material is not only thoroughly eyeopening, but also extravagantly composed. Deeply immaculate with it’s production design of lavish greenhouses, perfectly symmetrical neighborhoods, and a refreshingly original score; Hausner’s dystopian vision is frankly frightening and effective!
Unfortunately, the majority of the pros come with major drawbacks. The deadpan nature only truly works with the reveal of “little joe’s” infected pollen, in which all the events taken prior to this major event, largely feel like a cheap imitator of some alternative superior work. The tension backfires completely, with the unnecessary glacial pace, that ultimately feels unfulfilling; alongside the score, that after repeating the same exact pattern for the 100th time, becomes a cringe-inducing ear-worm. To top it all off, the metaphor is largely hand-fisted, in which the film literally assaults the audience with a song that’s titled “happiness business” in the film’s end credits. These choices are laughably painful and personally disappointing. For a filmmaker this far into her respective career, I’m shocked by the level of obviousness Hausner managed to channel through her lengthy near-two hour exploitation flick.
Little Joe is a particularly peculiar specimen. Just like the film’s featured fiend flower, the narrative is often times sterile, and brain washes the user with hypnotic trances to keep itself afloat and sustainable. In other terms, the majority of Hausner’s direction is all flare, without any meat surrounding the film’s bare bones. Little Joe is a flimsy attempt at developing an obscure cautionary fable, that clearly lacked the needed preparation or delicate care for it to properly succeed and grow.
Little Joe screened at this year’s Festival Du Nouveau Cinema. Magnolia Pictures will release the film in select cinemas on December 6th