I would love to go into detail about Jessica Hausner's "Little Joe," but here I am, it's 3 in the morning, I just saw a screening of Stanley Kubrick's restored "The Shining," in 4K no less. Alfonso Cuaron was there to present it alongside Kubrick's daughter, Vivian, and his second in hand Leon Vitality.
EDIT: Here’s a review —
As for "Little Joe," it’s supposed to be some kind of metaphorical indictment of antidepressants, following scientist and lead plant breeder Alice (Emily Beecham), so enthused by her new work, a potent flower that, just by its presence in a room, exudes the power to make you feel happier. Hell, she even breaks the rules by bringing one plant home to her son Joe (Kit Connor); She decides to call her lab creation “Little Joe.”
The excitement over Little Joe has the whole lab growing many plants for an all-important weed fair. If this plant can pass the ethical and moral protocols the lab so ardently prides itself on, then this groundbreaker weed would easily win the top prize at that event. Chris (Ben Whishaw), who has a thing for Alice, is at first, reserved about the idea -- after all, the plant has yet to be properly vetted --but, all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, he’s on board. Ditto veteran breeder of the group, Bella (Kerry Fox), who, at first, believed her dog was infected by the plant and is now “not my dog anymore,” but, like most, she eventually abides by the plant.
Of course, things do go out of control, the staff at the lab start to feel too great, empowered even, with Alice seeing this as a troublesome development. She believes the plant is sinister, changing people so as to take over our brains and flourish on earth. The people infected think she’s overexaggerating. They believe they are the same person, that the plant hasn’t changed them, but we, as an audience, can clearly see that it has.
The metaphors in this story are much more fascinating than the actual movie. Do SSRIs and benzodiapines change you for the better, much like the genetically modified plants in this movie? If you think about it, the advances in science have made it possible to lead a happier life, but do we maintain our own selves in the process? "Little Joe" is what I would call “slowburn arthouse” horror. There is barely any blood, nor are there any deaths -- the real threat is the plant's smell changing the course of your brain chemistry. The problem is that Hausner can't really find the tension behind this peculiar story.
The annoyingly jolting score, which unnecessarily uses screeching jump scare sounds, feels insulting and aggressive. Hausner should not be entirely faulted, one can only build so many thrills when the demonic presence in your movie is a stilted plant, but the comatose narrative she chooses to rely upon telling this tale, with extended single takes and many wide shots, doesn’t do her or the movie any good. [C-]