Director: Ayar Blasco
Starring: Janeane Garofalo, Daisy Hamilton-Risher, Cedric Williams, Jeremy Blum, Derek Petropolis, Nick Risher, Strathford Hamilton, Tiffany Wong
Runtime: 67 minutes
While watching television one night, tattoo artist Debora (voiced by Janeane Garofalo) and her friends experience several strange occurrences, witness strange images appearing on all their device screens, and giant cats on top of buildings. They soon learn that these are all connected to an alien invasion, and the four friends find themselves fighting for their lives amidst the ensuing chaos,
When I first read the premise for LAVA, I was admittedly psyched to see this strange film unfold before me. But what I found instead was a painful slog of a film that even at less than 70 minutes managed to feel too long.
The premise may sound interesting, but the problem with the film is that the story has multiple narrative threads that rather than weaving together to create a cohesive and intriguing story instead feel more like a web that you’ll find your brain tangled in as you view the movie. The movie introduces several elements that serve more like “WTF” prompters rather than anything significant to the greater plot. They introduce some intrigue with tattoos and Norse mythology only to randomly throw in giant cat monsters and giant witches. None of the narratives carry any weight to them at all, either, so by the end even though several things went unresolved I found myself not particularly caring enough to be upset we were left with questions.
Another severe issue is the cast of characters. Aside from Debora, I did not care about a single other character that appeared on screen, and even Debora wasn’t that entertaining of a protagonist herself. Two big reasons for this are A) the dialogue the characters are given is laughable, and B) the voice-acting quality is very low. Characters go from vocalizing exposition to carrying boring conversations amongst each other. A few characters, such as Samuel, actually get worse the more they continue talking (in his case he ends up being a love-struck fool instead of the nice dude he seemed to be in the beginning). Garofalo’s voice work is fine, but it often feels like they directed her poorly because her delivery of lines doesn’t match the emotional tone of the scene. Besides Garofalo, though, the voice-acting is pretty mediocre. Samuel’s voice, in particular, becomes incredibly obnoxious after a few minutes of hearing it.
One of the more egregious elements is how the movie tries to preach several messages to the audience, some more subtle than others. The main conflict has a very clear anti-technology message where “phone screens bad” is practically displayed in bold letters on the screen. But at other points, the movie literally stops to tell you about how it’s different from typical Hollywood movies by tackling more difficult and important topics. Whether or not the movie was being a bit sarcastic here, it comes off incredibly self-appreciating especially because the “important topics” they claim to be tackling are horribly executed in the story. While there are a few humorous lines, the bulk of the writing is weak and thinks it’s smarter than it really is. Because of this when they try to put a message in it feels like you’re being talked down to by the kid in class with the worst grades, and the message they’re trying to spread is painfully obvious to boot.
The final nail in the proverbial coffin is the animation. It’s bad. I’m able to forgive the lip motions because the movie was originally Spanish language, but the animation quality in this film fluctuates between passable to downright Newgrounds-level flash animation that looked bad 10 years ago. I hate to harp on this aspect too much because this was produced by a small studio, but the fact that sometimes the animation looks at least decent leads me to feel that they could have done better in other aspects. If the writing had been stronger I think the animation side wouldn’t have as much of a negative for me, but here all the faults are glaring.
LAVA will release on various digital streaming platforms (Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, Google Play, DirecTV, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, FANDANGO) for pre-sale on 2/22 and on 3/15/2021 in both English & Spanish. It’s experimental, and definitely an amateurish attempt. While I do admire the attempt, this movie feels like a short sketch that was stretched beyond its limit and then some. I’d love to see what this studio does next, but as it stands this first product left me disappointed.
LAVA is a mess of a film, with a nonsensical plot being carried by poor animation and lifeless voice-acting.