A clever and edgy takedown of corporate greed and the gig economy, Lapsis nudges towards science fiction in its storytelling. Motivated by a need to help his ill brother, Ray is ‘hired’ by a company that requires trekking into the forest to lay futuristic cables. The job substitutes a base salary and perks for plenty of empowering pep talk, driving Ray to question what he has signed up for in this smart and witty drama about social justice.

  • Year: 2020
  • Runtime: 104 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Director: Noah Hutton
  • Cast: Dean Imperial, Madeline Wise

Review by Laura Mannix

Noah Hutton’s Lapsis is a clever commentary on life in a profit-hungry world. Spurred on by the need to pay for his sick brothers healthcare, Ray (Dean Imperial) reluctantly gets a job at a quantum cabling company, trekking into the forest for days at a time, racing against other employees and futuristic automated ‘carts’. Through his friendship with long-time employee Anna (Madeline Wise) he soon begins to understand the weight of what he has taken on.

The selling of exploitative labour packaged up in friendly corporate videos and conventions, enticing potential employees in with the promise of freedom in Hutton’s world is eerily reminiscent of the American Dream. CBLR employees are promised flexibility, fun and the opportunity to work their way up the ladder. That comes with a price as Ray soon finds out. Employees are fitted with GPS tracking ‘medallions’ that monitor their productivity and movement. Everything is totally controlled – the antithesis to what the job proclaims. And of course, there’s the reason Ray applied for the job in the first place; to be able to afford the extortionate cost of his brothers treatment. This drama screams America. It’s ability to unashamedly point out the flaws in capitalism and in US society as a whole is what makes this film a worthy watch.

With a strong concept and engaging storyline to a point, the films downfall lies in its underdeveloped characters (It felt like Anna was there to simply advance Ray’s storyline) and floundering conclusion. The failure to tie up a lot of loose ends left me unsatisfied and hungry for more. The intricate world and the story that had been building up and up deserved a more gratifying end. That said, I do believe that Lapsis is worth a watch – especially for fans of Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You.

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Review by Jamie Waddell

Lapsis is the narrative feature debut of writer, director and composer Noah Hutton. It follows Ray (Played by Dean Imperial), a street-wise everyman struggling to make ends meat. When his younger brother Jamie (Babe Howard) falls ill with a mysterious energy sapping aliment, it is up to Ray to help find the cash to fund his treatment. This is when he find out about a prospective freelance job working for tech Giant CBLR laying internet cable across the country. As a technophobe, Ray is at first reluctant but eventually gives in. But when he arrives, there is something more sinister going on; Ray is determined to find out what it is.

Lapsis is an ambitious project which takes aim at the corporate greed of modern America and is a meditation on the possible future of the gig economy. In Hutton’s previous work, he has taken on both oil tycoons (Deep Time, Crude Independence) and the science sector (In Silico), questioning the status quo and taking them to task on their misgiving. It may come as little surprise in that case that his first feature is along the same lines.

The company at the centre of the film CBLR are a conglomeration reminsent of a Apple/Uber hybrid who have taken control of the electronics sector in the fiction not to distant future. They employ people who work on a job-to-job basis laying cable across the American wilderness. The promise of big money leads people to uproot their lives for the sake of keeping their income stable but signing their life away. This cult-like commitment is played to comic effect of the most part but the punchline hit you in the gut with a barbwire wrapped fist.

The film feels ready baked for a cult audience. It has an esoteric feel that is sure to resonate with people in a similar way to Office Space or Clerks. Hutton’s words in his script meld so wonderfully to the image on the scene. Wide shots use tilt-shift lens to suggest something is not quite right in the world around Ray. He is distrustful of technology at the best of times and what he discovers only goes to justify those suspicions.

Even the soundtrack for the film was composed by Hutton. A patchwork soundtrack using synths, guitar and drum fills. There is even a diegetic saxophone solo thrown in a moment of confusion in the film that so perfect fits while being utterly bizarre!

The ending of the film leaves a little to be desire, with the story petering out just when a climax seems to be on the horizon. However, this does not detract from the overall quality of the film. A Inventive, witty and irreverent critic of where the future of the American working class and large tech companies might be heading in the future. Lapsis might prove to be prophetic in the not to distance future, but for now we can thoroughly enjoy it.

Lapsis: 7/10

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Review by Conor Ryan

Lapsis is a true indie gem, a charming sci-fi satire that taps into the zeitgeist with its tale of a gruff everyman who is forced to reckon with the social and economic issues that surround him…

Ray Tincelli (Dean Imperial) is an old school hustler who must step out of his analogue comfort zone and gatecrash the lucrative market of quantum computing in order to pay for his sick brother’s medical treatments. Thrown into a strange new world, Ray finds himself stuck in the middle of a competitive and cut-throat industry. He is soon sucked into a mysterious conflict as he journeys across a vibrant national park, laying down quantum cable as he goes.

This is the debut of writer-director-composer Noah Hutton, who confidently establishes himself as an exciting new talent, bringing the world of Lapsis to life with excellent world building and an enticing set up. Hutton carefully introduces us to the futuristic business at the centre of the film through meticulous exposition and visual storytelling. As we follow Ray, a newcomer to this trade, we are fed bite-sized chunks of information that clearly establish the rules of the world while also setting the scene for thematic questions that arise later. Each side character that Ray meets becomes a window into a challenging lifestyle, a living and breathing example of a small cog in a big machine. Slowly, we become familiar with this corrupt quantum community and we realise that our protagonist is in over his head. Unfortunately, this sense of danger never truly pays off in the last act of the film. Despite the high stakes, and some nimble twists and turns, the finale feels quite conventional and just a tad underwhelming. 

However, Lapsis rises above these minor narrative flaws, in large part thanks to the brilliant cast on display. Dean Imperial showcases an impressive charisma, offering a compelling throwback to the charming grifters of the 1970s and subtly recalling anti-establishment icons like Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper. 

The film’s visuals are precise, with each shot dutifully serving the story. The director of photography, Mike Gomes, captures a bright blend of earthy colors and slick mechanical textures while plausible and interesting sci-fi tools are brought to life by production designer Alexander Linde.

The film is essentially a tonal marvel, precariously walking a cynical tightrope but never becoming truly mean-spirited thanks to its hopeful characters. There is a wonderful contrast between the relatively grounded elements of the setting and the more fantastical elements which draw us in with their compelling mysteries. A morbid vitality is prevalent throughout as we are given a scathing assessment of a gig economy reminiscent of our own. Bureaucratic mundanity is dressed down and torn to shreds, eliciting comparisons to other quality satires like Sorry to Bother You and Black Mirror. It is fascinating to watch a high-concept movie that deals with a dystopian trade union dispute and, ultimately, Lapsis is eager to please in its quest to provide entertaining food for thought.

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Review by Lauren Cullen

Noah Hutton’s debut, low budget “blue collar Sci Fi” drama, Lapsis is the latest addition to the growing number of Science Fiction stories that offer us a potential glimpse into our near future. In this overcrowded area, Lapsis needs to offer the viewer a unique and stand out take, so how does it fair up?

Lapsis is set in a world enveloped by quantum computing. Dean Imperial plays Ray Ticelli, a working class man who leaves his delivery job, to work for CABLR, a company that lays cables for quantum computers. Ray joins this job to get enough money for his brother, Jamie (Babe Wise) to receive treatment for a condition called Omnia. Ray is put in a tight and desperate position. He is a hardworking everyman who has traits everyone can relate to. Ray pulls the story (and his cabling cart) forward by no doubt. We wind into the cabling world with him, and understand details like for example, how the cables work, as he learns about them. This hides the much needed exposition and let’s us watch the events unfold through his perspective. The first third of the film feels like an act of discovery: we descend into the wilderness with Ray, and the deeper he gets, the more the events layer one on top of the other.

It’s the construction of this quantum world that is the soul of the film. It’s a well defined and thought out world that garners the perfect atmosphere for satire and cynicism. It’s very easy to slip into the tropes of Sci Fi, especially when trying to construct a world that is both close enough to our current reality to be believable, but also far enough in the future to feel dystopian. Lapsis stays true to its genre, but in its deconstruction of the gig economy, it shows us a part of future society rarely explored in films, but a part that is offensively in our face during day to day life. One thinks of Deliveroo drivers and Amazon factory workers when the automated voice screams “unauthorized rest” at Ray when he sits down, exhausted. CABLR throws pressure on the workers to “challenge your status quo” pushing them beyond limits. Everything in Lapsis is overbearing, from the huge grey quantum blocks that dominate the landscape, to the silent competition among the cablers, even in the unforgiving forest and long trails. It is clear on every step that Ray is out of his depth and you’ll want to keep watching to make sure he keeps his head above water. This pressure is only deepened when he must compete with automated cable carts so that he can stay on and earn money from his route. These cable carts represent the character of the cabling company and their values without having much screen time, and without being human. They are always there, creeping up on Ray, the sound of their legs trundling on the ground permeates the air. Their presence is in every part of the world and Lapsis centers its central conflicts around them in a stylish yet unnerving way. It’s this calculated world construction that gives Lapsis its edge in the Sci Fi world.

The first half of Lapsis is an enveloping experience, a deep dive into injustice, and a world that always feels slightly off beat. Yet it seems to lose its hold within the final third. Once the central conspiracy begins to unwind, the film loses its spark. The meaningful details that are set up at the beginning fall flat as the film reaches its climax. Anna, played by Madeline Wise has a complex history that is only explored in the surface level and we are left searching for more in her character. While the events make technical and story sense, Ray seems to fall into the background while Anna and the workers take over, and moments that are played as huge revelations miss important pacing beats and as a result they feel rushed and dampened. This is probably because the characters suddenly lose their nuance in favour of achieving their goal with little personal arc. Despite this, Lapsis makes up for this downfall with a cynical ending that leaves you with more questions than answers (in a good way). Lapsis is an extremely impressive debut from Hutton, especially considering he wrote, directed and edited and even scored the film himself. It will no doubt win over Sci Fi lovers of all kinds.