SXSW 2020: Lapsis review – an off-kilter drama for the working class



Lapsis has some trouble sustaining its narrative but it depicts a dystopia that looks all too familiar, and its rallying cry for worker solidarity couldn’t be more poignant.

Ray keeps hearing that he should get a quantum computer. Set in what director Noah Hutton describes as a “parallel present”, Lapsis takes place in a universe in which quantum computing has taken off and hit the mainstream, becoming looming normality in the everyday life of the average citizen. Ray (played with an endearing, burly charm by Dean Imperial) couldn’t care less until he learns about cabling: a new gig job that involves trudging through the woods pulling miles of cables across the ground to connect big, garish metal cubes that establish the new computing trading market. Ray decides to try his hand at the physically demanding and precarious labor for the sake of cashing in quick to help his sick brother Jamie and quickly begins to encounter the vaguely sinister quirks that come with the job.

Lapsis uses its sci-fi backdrop to depict an alternate reality that looks distressingly similar to our own, telling a story about the invasion of technological capital into the lives of blue-collar workers just trying to make enough money to survive. During his orientation, Ray’s mentors at the company assure him that the work is completely safe and is actually really good for your health. People are able to rent out spaces in their homes to employees to store equipment, which Ray is told, “actually works really well”. A cute animated welcome video tells Ray that the automated cabling robots in the woods are his friends and the best cablers are the ones who aren’t afraid to “push the status quo”. The film weaponizes the deceptively friendly and welcoming language of exploitative gig jobs to become a farcical parody of the jobs that market themselves as giving the power back to the worker when in reality the abuse is just being covered up. 

Hutton is able to weave moods and elements of different genres throughout the politically-charged narrative, moving between character-driven drama, dark comedy, and sometimes bordering on existential horror. The large, ominous cubes that reside in the woods feel like the physical manifestation of the aggression of capitalism and the financial markets against the regular workers who are consistently told that if you just buckle down and work hard, you can be successful one day too. This is also manifested in the self-cabling robots that literally race against the human cablers and nullify their pay if they don’t make it before the robots. The devices that cablers carry on them alert them that it’s not time to rest yet if they stop to take a breather. You can use the bathroom button on the device, but you only have 3 a day. Lapsis is at its most scathing and fulfilling when it blurs the line between chilling dystopia and our accepted reality.

Narratively there’s quite a bit of intrigue set up in the early stages that doesn’t come to a head in the way you may expect or want it to by the end, but perhaps that’s the point. The film depicts the mundane reality of workers enduring unacceptable conditions just to have enough money to live and, as such, worker solidarity is the only way to forge through the treacherous waters of our economic state and get out on the other side alive. The immediate stakes in Lapsis don’t always feel like life or death, but the broader socio-economic circumstances couldn’t be more so.

This review was filed from SXSW 2020. Check out all of our remote coverage from the festival.

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Trace Sauveur

Trace Sauveur has been a regular critic at Ready Steady Cut since March 2019.

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