Movie Review – Lapsis

Lapsis (2020)
Written & Directed by Noah Hutton

In recent years, the gig economy has sadly become more prevalent, starting in large urban centers and working its way out to rural environs. It is predicated on people unable to find steady, well-paying work, particularly those who are desperate. This desperation often comes out of unexpected tragedy, and for Americans, that is linked with medical debt. If you’ve spent time in honest conversation with someone who drives for Uber or does InstaCart, you’ll quickly learn how hard it is to stay above water even with these gigs. Their wages are often lower than expected, and the public they serve can be anything but kind. Lapsis uses the dregs of the gig economy as a jumping-off point for its science-fiction satire.

Ray Micelli (Dean Imperial) is a delivery driver in Queens desperate to get his ailing younger brother into a special clinic for his rare disease. Unfortunately, his current job isn’t doing it, so he tries out with CABLR. This job will involve walking through the woods of upstate New York and helping to lay cables that link quantum computing terminals. As a newbie, he’s given one of the easier routes but is tempted when he discovers more complex routes worth six figures. During his week in the woods, Ray meets Anna (Madeline Wise), a reporter working on the trails undercover; she’s intent on letting the greater world know how exploited these people are. Ray becomes a point of intrigue for her because of his medallion.

Like New York City cab drivers, the cablers must have a medallion that signifies they are officially allowed to do the job. Ray’s medallion appears to have been previously owned as it comes with tens of thousands of points on it that can be used to buy supplies. The name on the medallion is Lapsis Beeftech, a name that immediately draws strange looks from others. This is all a basis for a good mystery which is where the movie began to lose me. It’s clear director Noah Hutton wanted to make a film about our current economic status, but he doesn’t really go too deep with any of his satire. The story lightly touches on the sub-economy on the cabler trails and a little bit on the resistance that has grown among the workers. Unfortunately, the film refuses to go very deep, and I thought that was disappointing. 

What Hutton is excellent at is worldbuilding. Within 15 minutes, he’d established the groundwork of this alternate present. Ray buys his medallion from a shady neighborhood guy and is tossed into the very corporate and slickly marketed world of cabling. There are automated cablers that the humans are competing against. There’s even his brother’s Omnia, a disease that may not even be real based on some in-universe news commentary. Few big-budget movies have done as well at clearly communicating the texture of an alternate universe or future than what we find in Lapsis. The most important details are shared in well-written conversations that feel like people talking and not exposition being dumped (I’m looking at you, Christopher Nolan).

I don’t think Lapsis hits at its target as hard as Sorry For Bothering You, another pro-labor socialist film. I am not a massive fan of Sorry, but I enjoyed how intensely passionate Boots Riley was about the movie’s themes. Hutton wants to make a picture about exploitative labor but veers away in the second act, dulling the edges, so the whole affair ends up feeling like the skeleton of a network sitcom. Based on the simple setting, I could easily see this being adapted into a series akin to The Good Place. After carefully laying its groundwork for the first half, the plot felt like it was rushing to get to the point. I was yearning for it to slow back down and let things develop naturally.

Overall, Lapsis is a very fresh indie comedy that will have a lot of people struggling in the American economy relating to it. It manages to mock many commonly accepted corporate practices and underlines the over-complicated nature of gig services as they spiral out of control. I really wish the movie had done more with its core mystery, though, because I felt like the air had been let out of the tires by the end of the film. The plot just sort of stops happening, and we get a very cheesy, unsatisfying conclusion.

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