Review: Clever sci-fi satire ‘Lapsis’ sees the gig economy as a new wilderness

Dean Imperial in the movie "Lapsis."
(Film Movement)

Somewhere between our current dystopia and the future imperfect lies the wily, charming “Lapsis,” writer/director Noah Hutton’s lo-fi sci-fi satire about gig economy workers in a recognizable alternate reality. A refreshing instance of world building where the emphasis is on satirical wit, activist smarts and character, it feels like one of those movies we’ll be looking at decades from now and, however tech has transformed our lives, saying “Yeah, ‘Lapsis’ had that.” (Non-spoiler spoiler: it seems somewhat predictive of the GameStop stock hullabaloo.)

In the movie’s “parallel present” of a quantum computing revolution that has energized Wall Street, our entry point is burly Queens delivery driver Ray (Dean Imperial), a tech-averse blue-collar guy. Eager to make quick cash to help his ill younger brother (Babe Howard), Ray succumbs to the well-publicized money-making allure of one of the new quantum-derived economies: cabling, the physical laying of wires in forests among transistor cubes that sit in clearings like alien monoliths.

These monetized, GPS-tracked trail hikes — a labor market made competitive because automated cablers cover the same routes — are sold by the companies as avenues for personal achievement (“Challenge your status quo!” everyone’s work devices hilariously chirp). But, as Ray soon learns from a handful of fellow campers — namely experienced, cagey cabler Anna (a winningly sardonic Madeline Wise) — there are secrets to this hidden infrastructure and not everyone is who they seem.

Like a camping adventure fused to a conspiracy drama from the ’70s, “Lapsis” is its own cleverly deadpan curio, with Hutton somehow creating a playground in which Imperial’s naturalistic Gandolfini-esque appeal, outspoken critiques of capitalism, and eccentrically menacing toy-like robots can all coexist without too much imagination strain. That this sometimes wry, sometimes paranoid scenario mostly occurs in the picturesque woods away from civilization is another one of Hutton’s nifty commentaries: For the many sucked in by a perceived sense of independence that doesn’t always translate into security, the gig economy is indeed the new wilderness.


Not rated

Rating: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Playing: Available Feb. 12, Laemmle Virtual Cinema; also on digital and VOD