Movie Review: Lava (2019)

Lava (2019) is a nightmare! It would seem as though writer, Salvador Sanz, dreamt of gore and monsters, and decided to spin a movie on waking. Lava has a Poe-esque vibe going on as all things emo plays out on-screen. Interestingly, one of the characters bears the name “Edgar”. Coincidence? Possibly not.

Lava is reminiscent of the novel Farenheit 451 (1953), which is set in 2049, only in this case, we see on war on audio-visual media, not books.

The storyline is far from blasé: An entity (hacks everyone’s phones, tablets, TV sets, and even radios one evening. This causes people to experience image-induced paralysis due to the macabre pictures that show up on their screens. On top of that, traffic trouble poses a concern for the city-dwellers.  All around the city, there are giant black killer cats sitting on rooftops. (The black cats might be an allusion to mental health issues, who knows, considering how a big, purple sassy cat is the face of depression in Big Mouth.)  A graphic novel named “Lava” is the ultimate survival manual in this story, as the invaders do not have access to it, and the good guys can use it to fight back. The Lava graphic novel in the movie articulates, “You must avoid any audio-visual contact. It is the enemy’s main weapon. They understood the importance of mass media in this culture, and they are using them to spread their lachrymal culture.”

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Débora – a tattoo artist, Nadia – Débora’s flatmate, Lázaro – Nadia’s boyfriend, and Aníbal – Lázaro’s friend are the main characters in this post-Apocalyptic story set in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These four focus solely on surviving carnage spread about by monsters and a witch terrorizing the city, while avoiding exposure to any form of broadcast or social media. While eluding these horrors, a giant snake swallows Lázaro, along with some of the other characters. This snake slithers into a giant cage, and an ostrich carries it off to an offshore rig. Here, Lázaro sees the images causing mass hypnosis are tattooed on a giant snake. The other three make their way to the cinema. Here, they unravel their relationships: Aníbal talks about his crush on Débora, but she is uninterested in him. Nadia and Débora are forced to confront the romantic feelings they nurse for each other when one of the characters reads their minds.

Unlike some movies of this genre, the buildup does not last forever. The humor is goofy and dark; a perfect blend of fun and creepy. In a scene, the characters fall off a high building with a splat, only to get up and start running while one of them says, “Thank God we are animated.”  The slapstick nature of the animation lightens the story’s heaviness and bleakness, making it satirical. Do not take it too seriously, as it does not want you to..

I feel Lava has a clear message for contemporary society, as most of us seem addicted to screens, and reading traditional print – books, magazines, comics, and the likes seems to be fading from the popular zeitgeist. How many of us even bother with paperbacks anymore? It gets more interesting that a post-Apocalyptic situation where all forms of media are under attack is not a far-out concept. Really, it could happen. North Korea gives limited Internet access to a limited part of its population and China notoriously filters its internet content.

Giving it further thought, there is a parallel line between The Invasion in Lava and the COVID-19 pandemic. Like in the movie, our streets were empty during the lockdown months. People were forced to stay indoors, and in that they were forced to confront certain aspects of themselves. In addition, it makes us understand how different people cope during a crisis. Débora, Lázaro, and Aníbal make efforts to fight the killer kitties. To no avail. This is how some of us went all out to stack our homes with tissue paper and sanitizers pre-lockdown. Nadia, on the other hand, tends to act almost oblivious of the danger the world is in.

Ayar Blasco’s animation feature, Lava, is a fun if bizarre watch. Think of Adventure Time and Steven Universe, with a touch of Gravity Falls. If you are not a fan of the aforementioned cartoons, chances are that the character design in Lava (beady eyes, large heads) might make the film a little difficult to take. If you do like your cartoons full of grownup metaphors than perhaps Lava is right for you.

Lave starts streaming everywhere March 8th.

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