Rather than following the documentarian style from his earlier work, Noah Hutton’s first full directorial film is a broad swipe being taken at the modern ‘gig economy‘, as well as the increasing reliance placed on multinational corporations that run our everyday lives, but do so on the backs of the lowest paid workers. Delving into the topic with a near-future parable set in simple terms, with mixed success.

Lapsis foll0ws the travails of Ray (Dean Imperial), a scatter-brained luddite working a delivery job that’s only just legit. But despite his shady work, Ray’s a good guy, and works hard to pay for treatments for his ailing brother’s chronic fatigue. So when the cops start sniffing round, he jumps at the chance for some quick money, working freelance as a ‘Cabler’ for the new quantum computing network. It’s a simple job; unspool cable from one giant magnetic cube, across forest and field, to the next one, led by a GPS guidance medallion, and get paid for the privilege. But there are strange quirks that seems to follow Ray around. His medallion is filled with someone else’s video files and worker credits. To make matters worse, the mere mention of his worker ID name ‘Lapsis Beeftech’ gives rise to hostile reactions, that might just be explained by the enigmatic Anna (Madeline Wise), an old hand at the job, who seems to know more than she lets on.

In many ways, Lapsis is a smart little film. It’s fierce in its satire, although fairly unfocused; swinging wildly at everything from Amazon to the US Healthcare system, and even the digitising of modern life. A lot of this comes in the form of the the central conceit of the CBLR job. While the physical job in the film is deliberately ridiculous, (paying out miles of cable through woodland seems oddly backward in a film set in the near future) the minutiae of bureaucratic loopholes, scams, and the massive power imbalance between the workers and the corporation are all too known in gig work situations.

It’s also a genuinely entertaining film for stretches at a time. Particularly once Ray is in the forest trying to get to grips with his new job and failing utterly to navigate the social interactions with other workers. For these portions, the film shines, and Imperial is a charismatic and likeable, if slightly bumbling protagonist. What lets things down are the somewhat clunky means the script uses to keep some fairly blatant and obvious pieces of key information from him. Although to its credit, the film does address this at one stage with Ray literally asking another worker, “why can’t you just explain this to me?”¬†Unfortunately, hanging a lantern on the issue doesn’t ameliorate the problem completely, and it still grates, until a great slew of exposition seems to come all at once.

It also lets the film down that the B-plot of the story, that of Ray’s brother, Jamie (Babe Howard) and his condition, is somewhat awkwardly crowbarred in. It’s poorly explained, along with almost everything else in the first 15 minutes, and when the story suddenly swings back round to it around the midpoint, it feels jarring. Most of these are problems that likely arise from Hutton’s script, and have been exacerbated by his also directing and editing the piece himself. It’s not that the story is bad, but it has the distinct feel of a story where the middle was established and the beginning and end cobbled together to give it some sort of bracketing.

Those complaints aside, it’s far from a terrible experience. Hutton clearly has skill in telling a narrative, and in coaxing great performances from a relatively unknown cast. It’s merely a shame that with good ideas, and clearly a worthy intention, let down by some messy execution.

Available On-demand from Mon 5 Jul 2021