Little Joe (Jessica Hausner, 2019) Austria | UK | Germany

Reviewed by Kaio Farkouh and edit by Rachel Clyde. Viewed at the Cannes Film Festival 2019.

Experiments going wrong is nothing new, we have seen multiple times in movies. However, “Little Joe” brings a good plot involving interesting points about relationships and society. But is it enough to make this psychological thriller a good movie? “Little Joe” tells the story about Alice (Emily Beecham), a single mother, who works for a big corporation as a plant breeder. She comes out with a new specie of plants that brings joy to people.

Alice, whose son is called “Joe” is going through a hard time in dealing with him. She lacks in affection, attention and love. We can clearly notice that Alice has a hard time to deal with relations with other poeple. She spends most time working on this new specie of plants. A type of specie that requires attention, affection and love, all things that Alice needs to improve, in order for that the plant brings us joy. Alice steals one of the plants and take it home in a way to see if she can make things better with her son.

The first hour of the movie worked very well for me, it gives us a sense of realism, a realism which we live, where it calls us out in things that we most humans lack. The lack of feelings/emotions in order to work, and how we forget about our most beloved ones. It also works, because I kept wondering what was the threat of the movie, how a little plant will do any harm to us. All the suspense works well, with a score with a type of tribal songs remixed and the move of the cameras, which the director, Jessica Hausner, uses side ways shots. In scenes for example, when the scientists are in the breeder, she starts recording from left or right and without cutting moves very slowly, showing all the breeder and the scientists working. Also what I like about her style, it is when two people are discussing and things are getting serious, so she starts with a wide take and slowly moves to a close-up.

If the first act kept me wondering how the plants could do any harm for us, humans, the second act ended being much more explicit rather than implicit. Psychological thrillers works very well when they make you uncomfortable. The movie ended up going to a direction that I was not expecting, which I found interesting, however based on its story, without spoiling, but all the plot that was supposed to be the problem of the movie, at the end if you think about, it was actually a solution.

“Little Joe” has some good ideas, in which the movie does a good job in reveal them, however the movie lacks in how to work with them. The movie tells a lot about us, but fails to reach it full potential, not only as a thriller but also with the messages that the movie tries to tell us.

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