Movie Title: Little Joe
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Director: Jessica Hausner
Writer: Jessica Hausner and Géraldine Bajard
Starring: Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw, Kerry Fox, Kit Connor, David Wilmot, Phénix Brossard, Sebastian Hülk, Lindsay Duncan, Jessie Mae Alonzo, Andrew Rajan,
Review: Single mother Alice (Emily Beecham) is a workaholic plant breeder that has created new species that has the unique ability to make its owner "happy". When she violates company policy and brings one home to her son, Joe (Kit Connor), she begins to notice that he's acting differently. Is her overworked mind playing tricks on her or is her son not her son anymore? Watch as fear beings to flower in Little Joe.
I caught the trailer for Little Joe about a year or so ago and thought that premise sounded creepy enough to give me the willies. Plus, some positive word of mouth had me seek it out and give it an enthusiastic look. Unfortunately, I'm on the fence about this one. On one hand Little Joe comes off as an eerie Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) type thriller, or it can be seen as a tale of a disconnected single mom that doesn't know how to come to terms with her teenage son growing up and becoming his own man. Both are interesting stories. Both work wonderfully together - however the big problem I found was the lead actress. Emily Beecham's Alice is cold, detached, and unlikable. Throughout the film I didn't feel much for the character, although I was interested in the mystery of whether the plant has an ulterior motive. And for most of the runtime she didn't seem very interested in what was happening either. It's almost as if all the characters don't even act like typical people. They all act like aliens trying to appear to be humans. It is hard to follow characters if their behavior is constantly distracting.
The "Little Joe" plants certainly have a sinister look to them and exude a creepy factor that hits you the second you see them on screen. And that alone got me thinking - If you want people to get a plant that is supposed to make them happy then why would you make it look so darn eerie, ominous, and menacing? "Hey people, don't judge this genetically altered plants, who's pollen alters your behavior to "happy", by its devilish red color and sharp petals - no literal red flags here!" I don't know... maybe we're not supposed to assume anything passed on other films like this and when things appear evil and when odd, spooky music plays we should just ignore what your gut is telling you. PLANT=BAD!!!
The movie does move at a deliberately slow pace, which I didn't mind, but I was disappointed after spending so much time working things out and not getting much in the way of a resolution. I know not all movies need to spell things out to the audience, but in the end Little Joe felt as if it had no intention of giving you an ending whether it be satisfying or not. I think that the director and co-writer were trying a little too hard to seem clever and artistic rather than tell the audience a story... or maybe I just didn't get it.
Little Joe is an odd movie indeed. The characters are odd. The dialogue is weird most times. And the entire production design is bizarrely Kubrickian. I really wanted to like this flick, but it just didn't quite hit the mark for me. I think the filmmaker's thought this one had a rosy scent, but ultimately it smelled like dead flowers.
Fun Fact: Little Joe won the following awards: Prix d'Interprétation Féminine: Emily Beecham (Cannes International Film Festival, 2019), Grand Prix du Festival International de Science Fiction Utopiales (Poitiers, 2019), and Mention Spéciale du Jury au Festival Européen du Film Fantastique (Strasbourg, 2019).