LFF 2019 ‘Little Joe’ Review: Little Shop of Subtle Horrors

Alice (Emily Beecham) has genetically engineered a new form of plant that releases a scent to make people happy. However she soon notices strange behaviours in the people around her and in her son, to whom she has gifted one of the plants named in his honour. There’s something sinister about the effect “Little Joe” is having on people, but can Alice realise in time.

Little Joe is a very subtle horror film. All of the characters have a slightly unnatural, Indie movie was of expressing themselves throughout and so once the transition has to occur from “normal” to “infected by mind controlling plant” there’s not as much of a contrast as one may hope. This does add to the paranoia of the piece as it is very unclear who has been infected or if indeed anything is happening at all.

Sometimes the menace is so subtle that it does strain the patience. There are very few overt dramatic moments. Instead the narrative is more dream-like and undeniably unsettling. The lack of anything overtly sinister happening creates a feeling of unease that persists throughout. A frightening revelation would be a relief, it would confirm the worst. Denied that relief, I felt very anxious during the film.

Emily Beecham is very good as the relatable Alice who is just trying to ensure her son and her plant are happy and healthy. The theme of parenthood is important to the film. Little Joe is unable to reproduce and so, robbed of that biological imperative, may be trying to find other ways of ensuring it’s existence. It’s a film about the intoxicating quality of happiness and love and how that may be manipulated. Ben Whishaw is also fantastic as an quietly intense co-worker with affections for Alice.

Little Joe is a slow-burner with a great atmosphere but a lack of humanity. It may test the patience, but those who pass the test will find one of the stranger and most nuanced science fiction, horror films of the year.

Three Stars

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