Can a lonely tattoo artist with self esteem issues save the world from an invasion of giant alien cats? That’s just one of the questions posed by Lava, a new animated science fiction film from Argentina. Director Ayar Blasco (El Sol) along with co-writers Nicolás Britos (Dead Man Tells His Own Tale) and Salvador Sanz (Necronomicón) also have concerns about relationships, the media and life in the internet age. But really, who cares about that when cats and tattoos are involved?
Débora (Janeane Garofalo, Mystery Men, The Apology) has just sat down to watch the season finale of Gain of Clones with friends Lazaro and Nadia as well as Samuel who they’re trying to hook her up with. Suddenly the screen becomes a mass of static. Rebooting, (they’re watching a torrented file), doesn’t help. Then the static is replaced by strange images which appear on their phones as well.
Although the leads aren’t affected, others report having no memory of the two minutes when this happened. People shrug it off until later that night when the giant cats appear, silently watching from the tops of buildings. It’s an invasion, but by who? And what do they want?
Lava actually isn’t as concerned with invasion itself as with what surrounds it and people’s reactions to it. The effect of the media and our electronically connected lifestyles are the film’s main target. Knowing how much time humans spend staring at their electronics the aliens use them to leave us literally rather than figuratively hypnotized by the screens.
There is a resistance manual, in the form of a comic named Lava. Why a comic? Maybe because both Blasco and Sanz are comic artists as well as animators. It even comes with a mail in coupon for a rifle to fight the invaders with. Beats the X-Ray Glasses and Sea Monkeys they had ads for back when I read them.
Débora’s rather toxic relationship with Edgar and his connection to the aliens is another of Lava’s running themes. As are relationships and sexual orientation for that matter. The problem is, the plot is so thin at times it’s easy to lose track of these things. It often feels like a bare framework to hang individual scenes on. This isn’t helped by having several characters show up just long enough to tell a joke or drop a bit of information before exiting the film.
Speaking of characters, I have to wonder what the fuck was up with Lava’s one Asian character. She’s drawn with hyper slanted eyes and buck teeth like something from a World War II propaganda cartoon. She also jumps around like a character in a wire-fu Chinese martial arts film. I want to believe this has some other meaning in the film’s homeland and it was lost in translation. As it stands though, it feels like overt racism.
Unlike the last animated sci-fi film I reviewed, To Your Last Death, Lava does feature full animation. It’s a somewhat simplistic 2D style, which apparently is the same as Blasco’s drawings. It gets the point across and it fits the story in a way glossy computer enhanced animation wouldn’t.
The constant cutting to black between scenes could have been disposed with though. As could the several minutes of random animations between the credits for the English language version and Lava’s original credits. That time would have been better used giving the film a proper ending.
Lava certainly has its moments. With so many ideas tossed at the screen some of them had to stick. But it’s all too chaotic and inconsistent to work as a whole. At one point the leads meet a bloody end only to recover because “Thank God we’re animated”. It’s a funny way to break the fourth wall but it doesn’t apply elsewhere in the film. A less funny but more striking highlight involves Débora tattooing someone’s skin while they sit and watch, looking like Frank from Hellraiser.
If the script had managed to cut down the number of directions it tried to go in Lava could have been a much better film. Instead too many things are brought up and left hanging unexplained and resolved. The result is a film that’s quirky and sporadically amusing but ultimately unsatisfying. By the time the snakes and then the witch showed up it was all a bit to much.
I found enough amusing elements among the chaos to justify giving Lava a straight up the middle three stars. It’s length, just over an hour also helps as it doesn’t have time to get tedious. I found it watchable but hardly memorable. Those more into animation, or maybe chaos, will probably like it more than me.
Rock Salt Releasing will release Lava onto various digital streaming platforms March 15th in both English and Spanish. You can check their website for more information.