“Challenge your status quo.”
Does the chance to make big money while enjoying the outdoors appeal to you? That’s the come-on in the sci-fi-ish look at the gig economy in Lapsis, directed by Noah Hutton. The film has been nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.
Ray (Dean Imperial) is having a hard time making ends meet and care for his sick brother Jamie (Babe Howard) who suffers from Omnia, a new disease akin to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In order to pay for treatment at a well-known (but perhaps not quite up-and-up) clinic, Ray arranges to get a medallion allowing him to “cable”. In this somewhat alternate present, quantum computing is growing rapidly and requires a network to be built by people running cable overland between large magnetic transistors that have been placed in various state and national parks. There are loads of people dragging cart with spools of cable, each on their own route between two transistors. There are also cute little robotic carts pulling cable.
Each cabler has a unique handle. When Ray first checks in for training, he learns his handle is Lapsis Beefteck. He thinks nothing of it until when he gets to a campground, he discovers he has a large number of credits on his medallion already. It is even more suspicious when others ask his handle, only to be greeted with anger when he tells them.
We soon learn that this job, while it can be lucrative, is also exploitive to the workers. Those cute little robots have the ability to steal your route and if you don’t outrun them, you won’t get paid for your work.
In time, Ray runs across Anna (Madeline Wise), a fellow cabler who treats him kindly. In time she tells him the truth about the name he’s going by, and the possibility of how that can help all the cablers break free of the corporate exploitation.
The film reflects a reality built into the gig economy. While it may seem like a great way to make money, there are often various ways that the corporations in charge are taking advantage of workers with no protection under labor laws. And this is not just about the gig economy, but often very large companies offer very little to those who actually do the work, while the owners reap huge profits and stifle any attempt by workers to gain rights.
While the film has a social message it wants to bring to the fore, the story feels not quite finished. The discovery of the real Lapsis Beefteck, his role in the exploitation, and his surreptitious role is ending it could use a bit more fleshing out to bring the story to a more understandable conclusion.
Lapsis is available on virtual cinema through local theaters and on VOD.
Photos courtesy of Film Movement.