For a movie like Little Joe, it’s a little hard to fully describe the intriguing nature of its premise, and that’s actually a compliment. Written and directed by Jessica Hausner, it is quite a fascinating film that makes you think about its themes and messages after you leave the theatre. While the premise does sound pretty simple, it’s actually layered and filled with lots of depth. After having its Quebec premiere at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, it will certainly be recognized as a feature that finds a great balance between aesthetics and eerie drama.
It stars Emily Beecham in the lead role of Alice, a plant geneticist, who is too busy with her work to spend enough time with her teenage son named Joe (Kit Connor). She is focused on creating a new species of genetically modified plants that also contain euphoric properties. However, they eventually start developing some side effects by drastically changing the humans’ personality and developing their caring nature towards these plants. One day when Alice brings one of her inventions home and names it “Little Joe” after her son, she starts to realize that Joe is changing as well after sniffing it, which will change their lives forever.
Beecham gives such a marvellous performance, which shows that she’s perfectly able to carry the film on her own. She adds lots of depth to her character, and you completely understand where she’s coming from. Her relationship with her son is also one of the highlights of the movie, and it becomes more compelling as the story goes on. Ben Whishaw is also really good as a supporting actor, and he has great chemistry with Beecham whenever they’re on screen together. However, Kerry Fox is the one who stands out as you understand the struggle she’s going through in her life.
What really draws you in the movie is the wonderful cinematography with the help of its intriguing camera movements and framing. The cinematographer Martin Gschlacht is quite remarkable when it comes to finding the right shots on properly showcasing Hausner’s marvelous storytelling in front of the camera. The visuals are absolutely stunning and the film changes its colour palette from scene to scene to increase the intensity and drama of both the premise and the characters.
Even the musical score is quite impressive, which definitely adds to the unsettling tone that the filmmakers set up from the beginning. The only thing is that Little Joe is a slow burn, which moviegoers will either love or hate. The director is clearly asking the audience to pay attention to each detail on screen in order to be deeply invested in the important messages that Hausner is trying to convey. Some scenes admittedly don’t feel like they add anything crucial to the story, which would have helped the narrative to be a lot more focused.
In the end, Little Joe is another stunning feature from Jessica Hausner. The whole cast and crew should be commended for making one of the most fascinating films of 2019. While the slow pacing might compromise the movie sometimes, it’s still worth seeing for its fantastic visuals, cinematography, and acting performances! This film will keep you thinking for a very long time.