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SXSW Review: "Lapsis" takes on gig economy

Lapsis

Source: Couple 3 Films (Image credit: Couple 3 Films)

While this year's SXSW was canceled due to COVID-19, we still had a chance to screen some of the films for the festival. Keep your eyes peeled for more news on these titles in the future!

Gig economy is a complex conversation (writes the freelance critic). On the one hand, it grants freedom to work in non-traditional ways when traditional means may no longer be available, offers flexibility, and can help provide a sense of independence. But those benefits can quickly be outweighed by steep downsides if companies don't treat their contractors as people. Because many corporations don't even see their full-time employees that way, you can imagine how dicey things can get out in the freelance world if one isn't savvy.

Lapsis offers a fantastical look at the not-too-distant future, with a large amount of its focus revolving around workers' rights and privilege. A significant breakthrough has been made in internet and computing known as quantum. On the face of things, quantum is revolutionary. It offers unprecedented speeds and unfathomable advancements across industries. Everything runs on this fascinating tech.

We find out pretty quickly that those who don't have a quantum computer can't even see the same calendars as those who do.

Of course, those who can't afford this revolutionary new technology find themselves at a huge disadvantage. We're not talking about something as simple as slower internet speeds, either. We find out pretty quickly that those who don't have a quantum computer can't even see the same calendars as those who do. Might sound trivial, but what happens when those calendars include city events like street sweeping and when it's legal to double park?

This immediately illustrates the inequalities in tech like quantum, and that's before the film even brushes the surface of the gig economy conversation. All of that kicks off when Ray (Dean Imperial), a by the bootstraps gent who believes if we all work hard, we get the same opportunities, starts working for one of the several cabling companies to raise money to help his sick brother. These companies hire cablers because quantum constantly has to be re-cabled for the tech to work as designed.

As the story unfolds, we learn that not only are all the majoring cable companies a huge monopoly but cablers have a whole host of obstacles to contend with. Gigs aren't issued equally; they're only allowed to rest when they're told, they have a limited amount of bathroom breaks, and constantly run the risk of being lapped by an automated cabling robot. If a cabler is lapped, their entire fare is forfeited.

But just who that medallion belonged to holds a larger part in the film's conversation.

Wrapped up in the conversations of gig economy and inequality is a mystery. You must have a medallion to become a cabler, and they're not easy to come by. Ray acquired his through questionable means. This is odd when you consider his mentality about his opportunities being based on work ethic and not privilege. However, who that medallion belonged to holds a larger part in the film's conversation.

Though we don't meet Anna (Madeline Wise) until we're halfway through with the film, she's a hugely relevant part of the narrative. She acts as a conscience to Ray's "I look out for me and mine and no one else" ideology. As it happens, she also plays a major role in the mystery surrounding the medallion's previous owner. With her help and the help of his kid brother Jamie (Babe Howard), Ray quickly learns what can happen when someone with privilege stands with those with less of it.

Lapsis is a fun science-fiction romp that spends a great deal of its time discussing social issues without diverting from its narrative purpose. The ending's a little shaky, but otherwise, it's a tight story that brings up interesting questions under the guise of the fantastic. The easy, one-hundred-minute flick hasn't been picked up for distribution just yet. Unfortunately, I imagine its story will remain timely until it does.