Sundance 2023: Meet the Vuvv in Sci-Fi ‘Landscape with Invisible Hand’
by Alex Billington
January 24, 2023
Let’s try to envision a scenario on this planet where aliens suddenly arrive, but instead of violently enslaving humanity and eating all of them, they just use cutthroat capitalism to enslave everyone, er, peacefully. No violence necessary, just obedience. Would our world look any different than it does right now? Probably not. Landscape with Invisible Hand plays with this exact concept, adapting the novella by M.T. Anderson into a rather funky sci-fi film. This is easily one of the most ambitious, high concept sci-fi projects I’ve ever seen at the Sundance Film Festival, produced as a “studio movie” by MGM and Brad Pitt’s Plan B. Yet it fits right in at Sundance, somehow, because it’s all about integrity in art and rejecting big money offers in order to continue making something that stays true to the purity of artistic expression. It’s not an instant favorite, unfortunately, but it is fascinating and entertaining in an especially unique way. Those sneaky, slimy Vuvv.
Landscape with Invisible Hand is the third feature from filmmaker Cory Finley, following Thoroughbreds and Bad Education before this. The film is set in the near future in a time where an alien species called the Vuuv have arrived to Earth and taken over as its financial overlords. They rule the galaxy and now Earth is part of their “territory”, but they’re rather harmless, strange little creatures. They control everyone by taking over the economy, sucking up everything and leaving the citizens of Earth desperate and desolate. Let’s not sugar coat it – the Vuvv are a metaphor for the disgusting rich bastards who already rule Earth; asexual and heartless, they’re fascinated by romance and humanity’s quirks. Two high school students start dating, and decide to start broadcasting their budding love to the Vuvv to make more money (e.g. TikTok / YouTube). Adam, played by Asante Blackk, doesn’t like this idea and soon notices that everyone around him (except for his mom) is faking just so they’ll make money from the Vuvv and live a bit better than they were before.
The film reminds me of They Live, if it were updated for the social media age, and not as gritty, more glossy. I don’t totally love it, which is kind of a let down considering sci-fi like this is usually my jam, but that’s fine. I admire it above all as a good story, and I continue to appreciate how many films are being made these days about how money and constantly needing more of it ruins everything good on Earth. The courage it takes for a filmmaker to say, hey, I totally get it, and I’m going to show you how idiotic everyone is and how everyone keeps falling for it and how very few ever say “no” when this kind of offer comes along, is refreshing to see. More of this, please. Let’s keep waking people up from the delusion of capitalism. Don’t be seduced by the Vuvv. Will viewers pick up on this? I certainly hope so, but I’m not so sure. There is certainly an odd bit of irony in that an affluent Hollywood studio produced this movie, but I’m going to trust that Cory Finley maintained his own integrity and made it the way he wanted, which is literally the plot of the movie anyway.
One of the ambitious choices in Landscape involves the Vuvv and their method of communication. They don’t talk as we do, they slap their tentacle hands around and make noises. This is used throughout, and as viewers we watch them make these weird slappy sounds, then must wait for a translation (from a little black box that’s always around). It’s a very quirky film (similar to Hitchhiker’s Guide in its kooky feel) with some big ideas that I am glad are covered. Though it doesn’t go far enough, I wanted Finley to push even further. For example – how do we bring the Vuvv down? There’s plenty to chew on and analyze. There are numerous scenes where I thought YES thank you for blatantly saying this and showing how our planet is addicted to being obedient and doing whatever it takes (e.g. selling yourself out) just to make some money. It’s clever and critical, and potent in ways that will make people actually stop and think. Do I wish it was even better? Sure. I’m just glad someone is willing to show us the truth about the Vuvv and their greedy, conniving ways.