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Landscape With Invisible Hand Sundance Review: A Weird, Often Funny Sci-Fi World

Landscape With Invisible Hand

Based on a moderately popular book and starring an A-list cast, Landscape With Invisible Hand was one of the most anticipated premieres at this year’s Sundance. However, the film arguably isn’t as mainstream as it lets on — a bizarre sci-fi satire that unfolds in constantly unexpected ways. 

The movie follows a family struggling to get by on Earth after an occupying alien race’s promises of economic prosperity do not come true, forcing them to resort to unorthodox methods to make a living. Based on the novel by M.T. Anderson, the film struggles to find a balance between YA sci-fi and upscale satire, resulting in a movie that’s intriguing if not always effective.

The most interesting part of Landscape With Invisible Hand is its rich world-building. Finley and Anderson have created a surreal sci-fi world that’s not quite like any we’ve seen before. Small flourishes — such as the aliens’ bizarre method of communication — are intriguing and differentiate this from other movies in the genre, even if they don’t add up to much of a meaning.

Of course, there are underlying anti-capitalist themes running throughout the script, but these are rather straightforward and largely underwhelming. The portions of the film which are more likely to leave a mark are those which are just weird for the sake of being weird, as these parts tend to set-up the situations for the awkward sight gags that get the strongest laugh.

Landscape With Invisible Hand

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The visual effects aren’t particularly realistic, but it’s easy to cut the film some slack given that it clearly doesn’t have a blockbuster-sized budget. And while they may not be the most believable, the creature design for the aliens is very fun and creative, standing out from the dozens of nondescript extraterrestrials we have seen in other movies.

The biggest mistake made by the film is that it casts its net too wide with the characters. This is likely a casualty of the adaptation from the page to the screen, but characters that play a pivotal role in the first act nearly disappear by the third even though there is a place where they would fit in within the larger narrative. We’re given a clear hero, but the supporting characters frustratingly drift in and out in an almost vignette-like structure. 

Still, the ensemble is very strong and grounds an otherwise out-there movie in emotion. Asante Blackk is extremely charismatic in his lead role and has great chemistry with each of his co-stars. Tiffany Haddish is doing her usual schtick, and although it seems out of place at first, it comes into play in the second act. And William Jackson Harper is just wonderful in his brief role.

Landscape With Invisible Hand thrives when it is at its weirdest. Filmmaker Cory Finley has created a bizarre world filled with humorous situations, but the film’s attempts at satire don’t always land as strongly as was clearly hoped. It’s entertaining, but may struggle to find an audience.

Landscape With Invisible Hand is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.

Rating: 7/10

7 Out of 10

Also Read: The Starling Girl Sundance Review: An Uneven Commentary on Religious Fundamentalism

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Written by Sean Boelman

Film Critic and member of the CACF.