Alice Woodard (Emily Beecham) is a single mother and a top plant breeder at a corporate bio-engineering lab. She is so focused on her work that her teenage son Joe (Kit Connor) is used to being second in her life, so she breaks protocol and takes home one of her new creations: a beautiful but alien looking crimson flower that is genetically engineered to lift the mood of the owner.
“Little Joe,” as she names the new plant, is sterile, but the plant’s survival instinct is more powerful than science and it showers her son and her assistant (Ben Wishaw) with pollen that changes more than their emotions. Has Little Joe given them happiness, or just numbed them into a state of compliance to protect their plant-child?
Indie horror film Little Joe (2019) could be a 21st century take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers by way of Little Shop of Horror. It explores themes of maternal connection and emotional bonds—Alice is torn between her son and her new creations at work, and she struggles with the changes in her pubescent son—and touches on fears of genetic tampering in the natural world and the dangers of pharmaceutical solutions to emotional issues.
Filmmaker Jessica Hausner creates a sense of unease through her direction. The performances become emotionally distant and eerily controlled, the austere production design extends the theme of sterility to the lab itself, and the soundtrack adds an additional layer of alienation with its spare score and sound effects. It’s a slow film that suggests more than it says and leaves questions hanging, letting the audience come to their own conclusions, but the superbly orchestrated direction creates an eeriness that infects the entire film.
Not rated, features some adult language but no violence or sexuality.
The DVD also includes a Q&A with filmmaker Jessica Hausner and star Emily Beecham.