Little Fish: Review. By Alif Majeed.
Sci-fi movies, especially ones where something causes huge worldwide chaos, has become a mainstay of the genre. An unexplained disease or ailment is affecting everyone but stops short of going full post-apocalyptic mode. There have been many classics in the genre and some terrible ones. With covid rearing its ugly head, a crop of them has sprung out, which might be seen as timely but doesn’t say much.
Probably a reason Contagion was met with a muted response when it was released, but now it is much discussed. Steven Soderbergh just made a sci-fi thriller set in current times without cashing in on any particular current situation. So when a new movie comes where the basic premise is that a memory loss virus is making people slowly forget each other, you view it with caution at first.
But I was taken in by what the director, Chad Hartigan, has created in Little Fish. It might not be the most memorable of the recent spat of sci-fi movies with a similar world-ending bend to it, but that is because the makers were not even trying to go down that path. What struck a chord for me is a world where people were going to rot away, unable to function with their full memory.
Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) are a married couple who have been together for a while when the movie starts. Though a coup out initially, the more the memory virus takes control of the world, the fragmented revelation of their relationship makes sense.
When it becomes apparent that the virus has affected Jude, and he starts losing his memory, it strains their relationship. How the couple deals with the situation form the rest of the movie.
Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell, playing the lead characters, are lovely here. They hit their stride after Jack gets the virus. They work together in tandem to create some pleasant relationship moments that make you want to continue the journey to see if they succeed or not.
Think of every significant biopic, and the praise goes to the person dealing with the illness, and the other half ends as a prop there to support the other person. It is a testament to Olivia Cooke’s talent that she ends up going beyond the thankless supporting role. She shows the frustration and will to plow ahead even when things are falling to pieces, and Jack loses his ability to make it work.
There is a lovely character moment when Jack walks away, when it looks like he has completely forgotten her, where you almost see relief in her face. In that scene, Olivia Cooke’s anguish makes you want to jump in and tell her it’s okay for giving up, at least for that split second. That she is not a terrible person, but just a tired one dealing with extraordinary circumstances.
You still wonder why Jack O’Connell has not blown up yet, after Unbroken. He is playing a character who frustrates not because he was written that way but by watching how he deals with his illness. When he scoffs at the treatment that might involve addling with his brain, you understand his wariness and distrust of something he can’t understand yet. But the moment the reports of the cure show signs of success, his jealousy and frustration at his missed shot for the treatment is understandable.
The direction is also tight when the premise could have lent itself to going full Roger Corman territory with movies like Gasss!!, and Death Race 2000. Though I would love to imagine the treatment and premise of getting the Corman B movie thriller treatment, it required the director and writer’s steady hand in making it.
We can focus on some minuses of the movie. The beginning portions felt a lot like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, especially when the fragmented nature of how they get together is being revealed. Also, it doesn’t make its case in originality when they shot it in the same stylish way Steven Soderbergh (including Contagion) popularized with his movies. It may be an artistic choice, but the film comes off as a clone of the two mentioned movies.
One thing that can tick some people off is the lack of actual science fiction in the movie. Apart from a few scenes depicting the chaos in some random locations, you don’t get an idea of how much the virus has spread. It could very well be a movie about two people dealing with an illness and nothing else. That was not a negative for me as I was glued and hooked, wondering if they would succeed not.
Watch Little Fish for its stunning performances from the lead actors and the premise that does work wonders as the makers made a wonderfully even film that avoids the trap of its B-Movie premise.
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