Directed by Jessica Hausner
Starring Emily Beecham, Ben Wishaw and Kit Connor
Released: 21st February 2020
Austrian director Jessica Hausner has shaped a delightful film-making career, from Lovely Rita to Lourdes, she is truly one of Europe’s finest directors. Little Joe is her English language debut and was in contention for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2019, striking success with Emily Beecham winning the Best Actress award at the festival. Little Joe follows the story of Alice (Beecham), a single mother and dedicated senior plant breeder at a corporation engaged in developing new species. Against company policy, she takes one home as a gift for her teenage son, Joe (Kit Connor). Strange activities are beginning to happen at the lab and at home, is it just a trick of the mind or is something more sinister at play?
Little Joe is a hyper-stylized arthouse horror. It’s an enchanting film within its craftsmanship but the concept is far too linear. Little Joe calmly manoeuvres through its runtime, but the narrative does turn out to be a straight road. You would expect a few twists and turns from Hausner but the conclusion is far too predictable and plausible. The film is saved by its unnerving subtext as Hausner lets the mind wander allowing you to create your own theories on what is going on. This constant self-doubt becomes more interesting than the plot, but it creates an atmosphere of enjoyment for Little Joe along with a stripped back percussion score (with hints of dog noises).
Jessica Hausner clutches a terrific ace up her sleeve and that’s her framing. Little Joe’s ambience and mystery is captured through her delightful photography. You can sense the tension and clandestine tones Martin Gschlacht and Hausner are going for. The whole production value of Little Joe is of the utmost quality. The set productions are coldly clean with vivacious colours, at times you feel you are in a Roy Andersson movie. The colour and lighting laces a vibrant Giallo feeling, Hausner employs this and invokes another character within this hyper-stylized aesthetic.
Emily Beecham’s performance is quaint but carries a large burden on her shoulders. As a single mother at the pinnacle of her career, she balances a heavy workload and trying to maintain a relationship with her son. Beecham withholds her emotions but there is an overbearing aura to her expressions and body language. Ben Wishaw continues to work with some of Europe’s finest directors and while his performance isn’t exactly memorable, he does drive the narrative forward. Kit Connor as Joe provides a perplexing young man. At times you can’t quite understand if he is messing around with his mother or there is something actually going on. Beecham and Connor deliver a relatable family dynamic performance, but you do wish there was more focus on this element of the story.
Little Joe does embrace parallels with a certain movie of the same variety but, this oversimplified plot damages Hausner’s vision. Perfectly presented but it needed more fleshing out
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