Landscape With Invisible Hand is a Moving Cure for Franchise Fatigue
Cory Finley's theatrical follow up to Thoroughbreds is a change in tone and genre, but his signature twisted streak is still present.
Playwright-turned-filmmaker Cory Finley made a splash in 2017 with his directorial debut Thoroughbreds, a Heathers-esque teen thriller comedy that quickly became a cult hit. Since then, he’s gone back to basics in directing, helming the HBO movie Bad Education and a few episodes of AppleTV+’s WeCrashed.
Anticipation built around just how he would follow up his feature film debut, and the answer turned out to be on the other extreme of the genre spectrum. After the sleek, simple action of Thoroughbreds, Finley took on M.T. Anderson’s sci-fi romantic drama Landscape With Invisible Hand. The result proves Finley is more than just a dark-comedy filmmaker: he’s an emerging auteur who can work in the boundary-pushing sci-fi scene as well. Landscape With Invisible Hand is the perfect answer to the sci-fi franchise machine, and exactly what we need in 2023.
Landscape With Invisible Hand follows teenage artist Adam Campbell (Asante Blackk) as he deals with his world rapidly changing. After the invasion of the alien species known as the Vuvv, an asexual alien species with no concept of human courtship, society start crumbling left and right. His teacher is rendered redundant by Vuvv technology, the wealthy abandon Earth altogether to live on the Vuvv ship, and Adam’s mom (Tiffany Haddish) is left to scrounge for a job. Adam’s life only gets more complicated when Chloe (Kylie Rogers) enters his life. Her family moves into the Campbell’s basement, and the two fall in love, livestreaming their relationship for all to see — including the romantically-incapable, but fascinated Vuvv.
But when their relationship fizzles, the Vuvv accuse Adam and Chloe of defrauding their viewers, leading to some truly ridiculous scenarios that are treated with such grave seriousness you never question them. Tiffany Haddish, who has made a career through her comedic stylings, somehow acts opposite a Vuvv with a stone-faced seriousness that makes it all the more hilarious.
Believe it or not, the human and Vuvv dynamics actually provide a fascinating look at Americana, nostalgia, the nuclear family, and how we all react in a crisis.
But the central core of the movie is the question of what it means to be an artist in a time when the state of art is simultaneously increasingly fraught, but more necessary than ever. When you’re fighting to survive, why still create? It’s something that’s crossed the mind of any artist, and Adam doesn’t really have an answer. All he knows is that creating is something he can do to mark time, to express himself, and, most important of all, inspire others.
While the human interactions of these characters form the centerpiece of this film, the most intriguing imagery comes in the form of the Vuvv creature design. Without much source material to base them off of, Finley and VFX supervisor Erik de Boer have created squat, unnervingly fleshy creatures with mouths that can only be compared to, well, butts. It’s the most incongruous part of this world that otherwise feels very real, and that’s the exact point.
Sci-fi movies often are burdened with an expectation of saving the world and defeating aliens, but sometimes that’s not really the goal. Adam’s goal is just to secure a life for his mom and sister, reckon with his dad’s abandonment, and create his art. He can’t save the entire world, but he can salvage his own personal world, and that’s enough for him.
Cory Finley may describe himself as a “restless” filmmaker, but this movie has definitely secured his niche: human stories with a strange (often goofy) twist — be it murder, fraud, or butt-faced aliens. It’s unlike that he’ll take on another sci-fi movie, but this small indie movie could — or, at least, should — form the inspiration for sci-fi franchise movies to come. There doesn’t need to be a high-stakes invasion, just a high-stakes emotional story.