For everyone in Jessica Hausner’s film, LITTLE JOE, the apocalypse arrives calmly. Precisely speaking, the apocalypse is brought upon by a single delicate, otherworldly looking flower concocted in secrecy by Alice (Emily Beecham), a plant breeder at a larger corporation dealing in botany.
Indeed, Alice’s (and the corporation’s) intentions were in good faith when creating the sower of humanity’s potential doom; all she wanted to do was create a flower that would be able to successfully release pheromones that would literally make any owner of the plant happy. A good idea no doubt, but Alice makes a mistake in her scientific pursuits: she decides to make the plant self-propagating, negating the need for natural processes to take place. Some of Alice’s superiors and colleagues see this as a defiance to Mother Nature, Alice sees it as an efficient means to end. Both can be true, but the end result sees the flower, which is dubbed Little Joe by Alice herself as an ode to her own son (Kit Connor), slowly take control of any being who inhales its mind-controlling pollen.
Granted, through the lens of Hausner (and co-writer Geraldine Bajard), a botanical induced armageddon occurs with more bizarre courtesy than outright bloody violence as each infected person seems to be rather normal outside of their undying devotion to the little flower named Little Joe. This peculiar depiction of an INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS-type scenario drives most of most of Hausner’s film well enough even as it goes along its imitative story beats. Even so, LITTLE JOE is very well produced, with a visual palette that sits somewhere entertainingly between the light pastels of THE CAT IN THE HAT and the slow and alienating camera pans and dollys of some stoic, European horror film. With these contrasting figures constantly at one another’s throat throughout the film, Hausner successfully makes a houseplant relatively intimidating (sorry, M. Night Shyamalan).
Even so, the film fails to really make itself standout amongst its inspirations, not that Hausner and co. don’t give it the old college try. In an effort to give her solid if unassuming story a little more personal touch, the film quickly becomes a kind of dark analogy to raising a child as the filmmaker quietly draws similarities between the way that Alice sees herself as a single mother and the way that each of Little Joe’s victims takes an extreme nurturing approach to the little plant. While these comparisons bring up some intriguing questions throughout, they rarely rise above the more broad “invasion” portion of the film.
Granted, it's always better to witness a movie try and add a little spice to its overall proceedings than fully stick to the straight and narrow path and as it is, LITTLE JOE makes itself known as a pretty engaging and low-key sci-fi thriller. With the help of some first-rate production values, an overall strong group of performers (shoutout to Connor, who puts in the rare good child performance that comes along every other three years it seems like), and a brazen commitment to its at times bizarre story, LITTLE JOE may just have you looking at your nearest houseplant like a scared Mark Wahlberg.