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Little Joe (2019)

How about a modern-day Frankenstein story?

The science-fiction thriller from Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner tells the story of Alice (Emily Beecham), a scientist who engineers a flower and calls it “Little Joe,” after her son, Joe. Little Joe is not ordinary in any way: it is a mood-lifting plant with a hidden agenda.

Little Joe is often compared to Invasion of the Body Snatchers as the story’s villain is a flower that turns people into emotionless zombie-like beings. To me, it is more like a Frankenstein story as the creation ends up harming the creator.

The film mostly takes place in Planthouse Biotechnologies, where Alice creates a special breed of flower that makes people happy. Even though the scientists have concerns regarding Little Joe’s side effects, the plant eliminates its opposers quietly and steadily. It indeed does make people happy; only they are not themselves anymore.

The villain is as inactive as it can be, yet it is creepy enough. The sinister atmosphere accompanies the whole film. Shots of Little Joes doing nothing other than simply being plants in lab discomfort the viewer effortlessly, owing to the voyeuristic camera movements.

The film is indeed peculiar. Framings are unusual, such as excluding the main events from the frame in certain scenes. The film also has a distinctive color palette, almost making me think that Emily Beecham was cast for her hair color. It is stylistically different from any other movie I saw these days, which I love.

Alice is a single mom who doesn’t seem to be emotionally fully invested in being a mother. She truly loves her son, but she truly loves her job, too. Naming the plant after her son shows how incomparable those two are for her. Even her coworker asks, “Which one of her sons will she choose.” Alice regularly speaks to her therapist about her feelings on motherhood, but these sessions seem to go nowhere, which might explain why she thought the world needed the “antidepressant plant.”

The film made me question, at what cost do we want to be happy? Even if we are not quite ourselves? From this aspect, it also raises some criticism around antidepressants. Are we addicted to feeling happy no matter at what cost?

You might want to take on social criticism hints, or just enjoy Little Joe as an unsettling horror film. For her role as the disoriented mother and devoted scientist, Beecham won the best actress award at Cannes Film Festival.

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