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There is much to be admired in Jessica Hausner’s first English language film, Little Joe; from its cinematography to its unconventional score it is, at times, a delightful homage to Day of the Triffids and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. However, despite its glorious visuals and promise, Little Joe sadly never quite reaches its full potential as the story loses its way midway through. The result is a beautiful, haunting, but deeply frustrating enigma.
Alice (Emily Beecham) is a scientist who has recently divorced and now lives alone with her young teenage son, Joe (Kit Conner). At work, Alice is developing a strain of genetically engineered plants where the scent makes people happy, sounds great, right? Meanwhile, her colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) is secretly in love with her and her foliage. However, to ensure the success of her new mood-enhancing plant, Alice breaks the golden rules of biology by accelerating development with no prior testing – she even brings one home, naming it Little Joe. But while the beautiful red flower of Little Joe may look divine, it holds a deadly secret power as it changes those around it with its ejected pollen.
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Hausner bathes Little Joe in sumptuous colour and light while giving her plant a sexual identity as it unfolds. Here, Little Joe is alive, dangerous, and beautiful as it spreads its seed. However, for all this beauty and some damn fine performances, Little Joe lacks any trepidation among the comedy and horror. Here the film sits in a strange limbo, never knowing what it wants to be; a horror? A science-fiction/comedy? Or a plant-based chiller? Equally problematic are the interesting science fiction themes Hausner leaves hanging, from the price of neverending happiness to discussions on genetic engineering.
Ultimately, Little Joe would have made a sublime short film or stand alone TV drama, but as a feature length film, it stretches beyond the story at its heart. This creates a profoundly frustrating yet beautiful movie that never quite blooms like the flower at its core.
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Director: Jessica Hausner
Cast: Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw, Kerry Fox, Kit Conner, Phénix Brossard, David Wilmot