Sundance 2023 Review: Landscape with Invisible Hand

by Andrew Parker

Captivatingly strange and sometimes depressingly timely, writer-director Cory Finley’s delightfully idiosyncratic sci-fi satire Landscape with Invisible Hand (adapted from a novel by M.T. Anderson) is a sprawling story of a teenage boy trying to navigate a new world that feels far from normal.

Set in the not too distant future of 2036, Landscape with Invisible Hand takes place in an alternate reality where first contact has been made with an alien race that effectively runs the world. Turns out, these aliens are great at business and have effectively taken over every major earthly enterprise with their advanced technology and cost cutting measures. Poverty is at an all time high, but artistic teen Adam (Asante Blackk) and his former lawyer mother (Tiffany Haddish) are doing their best to get by. One day, Adam strikes up a friendship with a new girl at school named Chloe (Kylie Rogers). Her family is homeless and living out of their car, so Adam invites Chloe, her prideful father (Josh Hamilton), and highly opinionated older brother (Michael Gandolfini) to live in their basement. Adam and Chloe start crushing on each other, and hatch a plan that could turn their romance into a steady stream of cash.

Landscape with Invisible Hand is a hard movie to explain. That description above maybe only covers the first third of Finley’s movie, with the story continually evolving and changing direction. An argument can be made that Finley (who also crafted the wonderful, underrated dark comedies Thoroughbreds and Bad Education) has overstuffed his films with a lot of different themes revolving around trying to make it in a traumatized society, but the world created in Landscape with Invisible Hand is so richly drawn and designed (including some nifty visual effects and creature designs) that nothing feels out of place. Finley accomplishes a near impossible task of making the viewer understand the new normal of the characters – all exceptionally portrayed by the cast across the board – and the issues facing them.

Landscape with Invisible Hand might end up becoming one of those cult films that grows richer and more profound with subsequent rewatches, but in the moment Finley’s satirical bent (which is often a lot darker and sadder than it is laugh out loud hilarious) feels custom made for our current world. Landscape with Invisible Hand is both depressing and amusing because one gets the distinct feeling that an alien invasion wouldn’t even be necessary to facilitate such a societal collapse. The billionaires and their influence have already done it for them.

Landscape with Invisible Hand screened as part of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

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