Landscape with Insivible Hand

Movie Review

Landscape with Insivible Hand

Reviewed by:
Luke Bonanno on August 24, 2023

Theatrical Release:
August 18, 2023

"Landscape" is full of timely ideas and social commentary, but the dystopian science fiction makes for a fairly miserable experience. Jump to review ↓

Running Time105 min


Running Time 105 min


Cory Finley

Cory Finley (screenplay); M.T. Anderson (novel)

Asante Blackk (Adam Campbell), Kylie Rogers (Chloe Marsh), Tiffany Haddish (Beth Campbell), William Jackson Harper (Mr. Campbell), Brooklynn MacKinzie (Natalie Campbell), Josh Hamilton (Mr. Marsh), Michael Gandolfini (Hunter Marsh), John Newberg (Mr. Stanley), Tony Vogel (Brett), Christian Adam (Zach)

“Landscape with Insivible Hand” Movie Review

by Luke Bonanno

Landscape with Invisible Hand is based on a book which could only have been written in modern times. As adapted for the screen and directed by Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds), M.T. Anderson’s 2017 novel is full of timely ideas and social commentary. It also happens to be science fiction set in a most depressing near-future with an absolute minimum of action.

As children’s artwork hanging on the wall shows, aliens have invaded our planet and instead of eradicating us, they’ve simply taken over. At school, the curriculum for artsy teenager Adam Campbell (Asante Blackk) and his classmates increasingly involves holographic lessons about the history, language, and customs of the Vuvv, the powerful race that lurks above and is likened to “gooey coffee tables.” Adam befriends transfer student Chloe (Kylie Rogers) and invites her homeless family of three to start living in the basement of his family’s comfortable home.

Teenagers Chloe (Kylie Rogers) and Adam (Asante Blackk) endure their teenage years under alien overlords in "Landscape with Invisible Hand."

Chloe’s out-of-work father (Josh Hamilton) and older brother (Michael Gandolfini) are a little uncomfortable with accepting charity, and Adam’s attorney mother (Tiffany Haddish) is a bit weary of giving it, but with no other obvious alternatives, the families make do. Meanwhile, Adam and Chloe begin a romantic relationship, live-streaming their time together to Vuuv interest and financial gain. This somewhat staged courtship has clear connections to actual practices widely used today, from social media like Twitch and YouTube to reality dating shows like “The Bachelor.”

Innocent and chaste, Adam and Chloe’s relationship stops short of OnlyFans parallels, but the couple remains committed to giving their growing audience what they want. This comes, predictably, at the expense of the romance, as the ubiquitous self-documenting and extraterrestrial-friendly exposition quickly put a damper on the relationship. And yet, since it is the only way that Chloe’s family can pay Adam’s family rent, the teens continue to play it up for the oft-running cameras above their eyes, until they get hit with a lawsuit from the Vuuv accusing them of deception.

Sci-fi often provides a welcome bit of escapism and exhilaration, but Landscape is not that kind of movie. This is more like a teen-oriented version of “Black Mirror” or recent Oscar winner Everything Everywhere All at Once, but with considerably less appeal. With its soft R rating, the movie won’t even be able to be enjoyed by many of those who might most appreciate it.

Adam (Asante Blackk) and Chloe (Kylie Rogers) are surprised their little romance broadcasts have led to a lawsuit from their Vuvv overlords in Cory Finley's "Landscape with Invisible Hand."

Finley’s screenplay gives us much to chew on and digest with its depictions of neurosurgeons becoming cloud chauffeurs, alien bureaucracy reminiscent of Brazil and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, schools transitioning to remote learning, and families absolutely struggling to get by. The many ideas, however, fail to add up in a satisfactory way. The Adam-Chloe romance with which the film begins is soon abandoned and never resurfaces. The terrifying lawsuit looming over the teens gets resolved by Adam’s mother trying to relate to the prosecution and agreeing to let its child pretend to be her husband. There is a compelling thread of the pretend husband getting ideas about domestic roles from old television sitcoms, which leads to a gag involving a blonde wig and an apron but nothing more.

There is clear value to the contemporary subject matter, but it all makes for a fairly miserable experience. Great sci-fi like Everything and Hitchhiker’s succeeds because it sees the good in humanity and empathizes with our daily struggles (not to mention, they each had their share of dynamic visuals). Landscape sees our daily struggles and simply holds a mirror up and asks, “Isn’t this a dumb time to be alive?” It’s hard to disagree, as enduring this world for 105 minutes becomes exponentially more challenging and joyless as the film progresses.

In light of the presentation’s limited appeal, it is easy to understand the movie’s struggle to find an audience. Its $318-per-theater take on 300 screens last weekend is disappointing by any measure. For reference, a slightly more limited 20th anniversary rerelease of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy grossed nine times as much. The end of summer into the beginning of fall is rarely a time that the studios capitalize on commercially, but it’s hard to imagine this dark, dreary dystopian yarn doing significantly better business any other season, despite its thoughtful substance.

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