A rare kind of depth and sweetness permeates throughout the new film from director Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds), the sci-fi comedy Landscape with Invisible Hand. Set in 2030, the story chronicles two ambitious, well-meaning teenagers who create a risky plan to ensure their families' futures. That suggests trouble is afoot. And there is.
Earth has been occupied by an alien species whose bureaucratic ways and advanced technology — they pretty much think humans are one big reality show and AI has taken over— leaves many citizens unemployed and impoverished. Artistic teen Adam (Asante Blackk of When They See Us) wants to help his mother (Tiffany Haddish), so he agrees to have his “love story” with Chloe (Kylie Rogers of Beau Is Afraid and Yellowstone) tracked on a social media platform so that the aliens can toss him some cash. The dilemma? Adam and Chloe dig each other, but they’re not “in love.” And the aliens can sense it.
The ripple effects of that problem affect many characters in the movie, which was based on the book by M.T. Anderson. Cory Finley co-wrote the film with Anderson, and while there are many reasons Landscape with Invisible Hand stands out, it is yet another great outing that features Black characters in leading roles in sci-fi tales.
A paradigm shift happened this year on that front. From I'm A Virgo and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse to Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, there has been an increased amount of representation and diversity on screen. Cory Finley shared more about that topic and the film in this exclusive MovieWeb interview.
Keep it Diverse
“I certainly don't have to tell you or anybody that movies have not always reflected the populations of the people that watch them and the societies in which they're made,” Cory Finley shared of the importance of creating stories with diverse characters. “But with Landscape with Invisible Hand, I started with my burning desire to work on something important, and it went back to Girls Trip.”
Finley saw the film in the theater, in fact, and even though it was “so far from the tone of anything” he typically made from in his wheelhouse, he was captivated by Tiffany Haddish’s role in the film and continued to watch everything the Haunted Mansion actress starred in.
“I just really wanted to work with her,” he added. “Then I saw Asante Blackk in Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, and again, I saw one of those really rare actors who can do just anything. He's such a compelling guy, has such integrity, and a young quality that’s all very bright. I wanted to work with these two great actors, building the cast around them.”
The film also stars Brooklynn MacKinzie, John Newberg, Tony Vogel, Josh Hamilton, Christian Adam, and Michael Gandolfini.
Blackk certainly stands out here as Adam, a teen artist who simply wants to pursue his dreams. But with an alien bureaucracy in place, is that even possible? Look for Tiffany Haddish to turn in one of her most grounded, believable performances here, even when the script finds her character in one of the unlikeliest of situations interacting with the aliens. All of it circles back to the importance of diversity.
Finley says it was important for him that the characters were unique in Landscape with Invisible Hand:
It feels like in the last couple of years there have been real milestones in terms of diversity in everything from winning Oscars and other recognitions. That's obviously long overdue. I do believe there's probably still quite a way to go. But it’s encouraging overall.
The Most Challenging Part of the Film
Speaking of diversity, let’s take it to the sky. Surely, this film wins points for how well it captures the essence of an alien race we have never really seen before on screen. Called the Vuvv, they communicate with humans through a series of clicks and clacks, which are interpreted by a translating device. They are short, blob-ish, perhaps squishy, and have tentacles which appear to have eyes on the ends. If that sounds cartoonish, it’s meant to be, but Finley and his creative team did a fine job at the special effects for these creatures, and they look and act believable.
“The biggest challenge for me was the creature design, because it was so far from anything I've ever done before,” Finley said. He elaborated:
“It did end up being, I think, one of my favorite parts of the process. And a lot of it came down to my excellent collaborators. I worked with Erik-Jan de Boer, who is a visual effects supervisor. He worked on Life of Pi, Okja, and The Maze Runner. He made the process easy for me and was super collaborative and taught me a lot about visual effects.”
As fate would have it, when the pandemic hit, the production had to reroute its efforts. “We had a long time during COVID to work on those designs, do all sorts of tests and markups, and really find a creature that was always unique, not clearly a spider alien or a squid alien or dog alien,” he added. “If anything, we wanted to do something that, at its core, was very simple and very stripped down. So that was a big learning curve for me.”
Working with Asante Blackk & Tiffany Haddish
Asante Blackk captured audiences’ attention during his recurring role in This Is Us. Even then, you got the sense there was a “there” in this fine actor. Starring in Landscape with Invisible Hand, he delivers a magnetic performance and significant representation of a Black character in a sci-fi film.
“Asante has a quality that I think is very important, specifically, in your lead actors for a movie, which is, he’s very interesting while doing very little,” Finley said of the actor. “It can also be traced to a sort of monologue, and you can see all the gears turning in him. He’s really strong in his passions. His reactions are always very compelling, very kind of mysterious and emotionally legible.”
Tiffany Haddish’s celebrity has soared in recent years. Between The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and her voice talents in animated shows like Solar Opposites, to The Afterparty and Haunted Mansion, this performer is on fire. Finley explained:
“Obviously, I knew Tiffany for her comedy, but I was taken aback by her dramatic roles. She was an established, good dramatic actor, and here, she really carries a lot of the emotional weight of the movie. We buy her as this mother who would do whatever is necessary to protect her family. She really moved me, and I was tearing up behind the monitor. She's just a wonderful actor.”
As for what he hopes audiences walk away with after seeing the film, Finley is candid. “Above all, I hope it gets people talking. I think it's really cool in movies when you give people a vocabulary, whether that's through jokes or metaphors. I didn't want it to have one strong, didactic, sort of propagandist message," said Finley.
I wanted to raise questions more than give answers. I hope people are provoked.
You, too, can be provoked by the delightful Landscape with Invisible Hand, from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, when it hits theaters Aug. 18.