Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 45 minutes, Director – Jessica Hausner
A plant designed to make people happy begins to affect the brains of those creating and breeding it.
The best way to describe the gist of Little Joe is Little Shop Of Horrors meets Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. The titular Little Joe is a plant designed to bring happiness to those that smell it. However, the plant itself cannot breed, it’s sterile. So, because of this it finds a way to infect the minds of those that smell it; beginning to control them, making them happy and making the plant the priority in all their lives. Spreading from person to person as the feared plant controls those that it’s inside the minds of to share it with other people.
However, you can’t tell when someone has been infected by the plant, their behaviour remains mostly the same, despite one or two changes in relation to how they all seem to almost worship it and the success that it has; all building up to releasing it to the public at a flower fair. As this event gets closer there’s no denying that there are fine elements of tension that build up as the plant begins to dominate the minds of the breeders that care for it almost like a child. One prominent breeder being Alice (Emily Beecham), one of the leaders of the Little Joe programme, named after her own son Joe (Kit Connor); who the plant takes control of early in the film. Alice, despite not being taken over by the bright red straw-like top of the flower, sees the good in the plant and believes that it can be of great benefit to those around her. However, when co-worker Bella (Kerry Fox) begins to speak against what she is working on after a series of negative events and interactions involving her normally trusted and calm dog, Alice gradually begins to doubt her own work, and sees the strange behaviour in her co-workers.
None more so than Chris (Ben Whishaw). Alice initially has a close working relationship with Chris, something which her son Joe believes could be something more with the way that Chris behaves around her. As Whishaw’s initially quiet character becomes more outspoken about his dedication towards Little Joe Alice begins to notice some strange behaviour. Through such events, and the fact that we only see a small amount of people smell the flower there’s a fair deal of unease and slight tension in the film. Alice faces a dilemma both at work and in her personal life. Is she just making things up, or seeing things that aren’t there? Or is she slowly beginning to feel a distance with her son, amongst her colleagues, who is changing as he grows up, after all she is spending a lot more time at work.
Throughout the film the words “you need to talk to it” and “you can hear it talk back” are repeated by a number of different characters. The fact that the plant is treated as a living, breathing human with a mind of its own – which in a number of ways it does have – adds to the creepy and unsettling nature of the film. When mixed with the loud and tense effect of the lightly used score and music, which at some points does create an effective jump acre by itself when it just seems to start at the best possible point, there is certainly an effect when it comes to the horror element of this weird little independent sci-fi horror that will probably go under the radar for many people, which is a fair shame.
While the horror isn’t always present, which seems to be the intention of director and co-writer, alongside Géraldine Bajard, Jessica Hausner, there is certainly an eerie nature during a number of scenes, which while not exactly intense is effective. There’s something about the precise and rather clean direction of Hausner that adds to the overall air and feel that the film has. Taking time to linger on certain elements, creating a somewhat slow and steady pace that also helps to put the viewer into the mindset of many of the characters and feel a further sense of unease; while also allowing for the gradual pace of the plants spread to be felt in an almost sustained way.
As mentioned there’s a seemingly clean air to Hausner’s direction, something which when you see the slight twitches in the personalities of those that have been possessed by the plant you almost begin to question whether they have been taken over or not, even if only for a brief amount of time. What the film never does is make you doubt Alice. You know she’s right, even if she is doubting herself. You know that those around her are ‘wrong’, or at least have been taken over, that’s never denied or doubted. There’s a straight direction in which the film travels along, clear and direct. And this all leads to a bold and interesting final 15-20 minutes. The tension that’s played with throughout coming back and creating even more mild fear as to what could happen if this plant does eventually get released into the world. This is something that carries throughout most of the film. And while not quite present in every scene it’s definitely there every now and then, creating a particular feeling for the film as the tone doesn’t quite change from scene to scene, but the feeling does. Little Joe is certainly a unique film and it’s possibly not going to be something that everyone’s going to like. But, for what it is it’s a rather good cross between genres with some mild unease and great use of score and music thrown in for good measure.
Little Shop Of Horrors meets Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Little Joe is an interesting blend of genres. Lined with good performances and wonderful use of effective music this is a very clean, direct film that while varying in style and feeling at some points certainly has a mild sense of appreciated tension and fear.