Landscape with Invisible Hand ‘Sundance’ review: A wacky satire about colonialism

Image from Landscape with the Invisible Hand.
A still from Landscape With invisible Hand by Cory Finley. Pic credit: MGM/Sundance Institute

Landscape with Invisible Hand is quite an odd creation. The film, which is based on a book by M.T. Anderson, imagines a world where aliens and humans decide to coexist on Earth because it was mutually beneficial economically.

Moreover, it conveys how such an agreement would impact the people from Earth. Cory Finley’s adaptation is a wacky comical satire about higher powers using their strength to culturally appropriate entertainment, life, and artists through colonization — even as a form of propaganda.

It’s a little clumsy on the landing, but there are some clever elements in this ridiculous movie.

The film stars Asante Blackk as Adam, a high schooler and artist living a normal-ish existence in the middle of an alien takeover. Right away, the world-building kicks off as we see Adam and his friend Chloe (Kylie Rogers)–who he has affection for–are outside her home. A saucer flies above the house with Chloe yelling at it to “Park somewhere else!”

Soon after, we are thrown into a school setting where everyone is being taught by a cartoon hologram. The hologram is an animated walking and talking version of the alien race known as Vuvv.

Here, Finley uses this school setting to give the viewer exposition about the history of the Vuvv coming to Earth, making peace, and forming a fortunate alliance together. The scene then subverts the setting as the kids remove a silver piece from their forehead and the cartoon vanishes with reality appearing.

Exploiting other cultures

It further demonstrates how the Vuvv has impacted workers as the human teacher is fired and replaced by the talking Vuvv cartoon.

The Vuvv themselves are funny little things. Imagine if one will, Spongebob’s pet Gary but cross blended with the body of an uncooked chicken. That is the Vuvv in a hilarious nutshell. Adding to this, they speak using flappy pink arms (with sandpaper-like palms) to make rough brushing sounds. The chuckles are real each time these pink little beings karate chop with their hands together to speak.

The film is a wacky satire about colonizing. Similar to how the Native Americans were treated, the Vuvv approach Earthlings as a commodity and wished to exploit their customs. Adam and Chloe take advantage of a new form of entertainment where the Vuvv watch how humans share love with each other. By doing so, they make money while broadcasting their romance to the strange pink nuggets with flappy arms.

When their romance does not meet the Vuvv’s satisfaction, one of the creatures decides to take legal action—forcing his mother (Tiffany Haddish) to get involved.

We also see parallels to the Vuvv and colonization with exploiting innocent art for propaganda. There are hints of reframing historical events in education, the world economic system has been restructured (Chloe’s family is homeless as a result,) and they want to change as well as steal customs from the planet.

They do not appear harmful, but they have basically accomplished almost everything but genocide.

It’s not a dark comedy by any means. Finley seems to be channeling the comedic sensibilities of Barry Sonnenfield and The Coen Brothers. The aliens themselves easily could have been featured in a Men in Black movie.

Some of the characters feel exaggerated, much like in a Coen film. For example, Chloe’s father and brother feel like characters ripped from The Ladykillers, with buffoonish inclinations.

While it was entertaining and amusing, Landscape with Invisible Hand is the weakest of Cory Finley’s works. Bad Education and Thoroughbreds both concluded with strong thought-provoking finales.

Finley has a knack for telling stories with extremely problematic characters. This is more of a departure for the filmmaker and playwright. Adam is a straightforward kid who loves art, and there is nothing morally questionable about his motives.

It lacks the memorial head punch as compared to Thoroughbreds which made one reevaluate the interpretation of a sociopath or Bad Education, where we see a superintendent doing ethical gymnastics with a school budget.

The character writing remains strong, it just lacks the typical artistic flex. However, this might prove Finley has the skill set to tackle an original idea using big-budget visual effects.

A weird and wacky satire

Landscape with Invisible Hand is a comical and wacky satire about colonialism.

It’s not the best film from Cory Finley, but there are enough clever ideas here to make it worth a watch. It’s a tad clumsy in execution but an uncoordinated attempt with bold ideas is still a win.

At the very least, watching Tiffany Haddish yell at an alien with the body of an uncooked chicken should inspire viewing.

For readers seeking more Sundance coverage, check out our reviews of Magazine Dreams, Sometimes I Think About Dying, Slow, and Kim’s Video. The awards for Grand Jury, Special, and Audience favorites were announced this weekend as well.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments