FILM REVIEW: Lava (2021) – Interesting… Sometimes

A Lava Story

The story of Lava starts like a lot of weird stories begin, with a trip to the tattoo artist. In this case, the tattoo artist is Deborah (Janeane Garofalo) who is trying to live a normal life like any other person of this generation. She goes to work, tattoos people, then comes home to hang out with some friends and watch a pirated copy of the latest episode of Game of Clones (which is apparently just like Game of Thrones but with sentient vegetables, if the VeggieTales people could get on making that a reality I would be very happy).

Anyway, a little bit into the episode of their show, the TV starts going on the fritz and soon is displaying imagery that is usually followed by a phone call telling people they’re going to die in seven days. In this case, though the imagery just puts the main cast into a hypnotic trance and when they wake up everything seems fine, except there are giant cats everywhere for some unknown reason. It’s up to Deborah and her pack of pals to figure out just why there are so many Kaiju Felines around and what those images have to do with the art of tattooing.

Lava Trailer

The Good

As much as I can compliment Lava, it has a real understanding of how to use it’s medium properly. The entire fillm almost seems like it’s made a conscious decision to use every weird element that animation allows. There’s a glorious ramshackle approach to the visuals, everything is weird and off-putting but you can tell that it’s a conscious choice. Lava isn’t one of those animated projects where you could see it being done in live action, it’s a little too weird for that to work and that gives the film its charm. 

As a story, Lava is your standard hero’s journey where a normal person ends up being thrown into something extraordinary and has to make it through. Considering that something extraordinary is giant cats taking over the world using everyone’s love of their phones that could be a really interesting story. Admittedly, it does feel like they’re rushing through the events, like this is actually a fan edit of a 6 episode series that’s been cut down into a movie. Everything just goes by so fast that you can literally look down at your phone for a second and be totally lost when you look back. 

What’s also kind of charming, eventually, is the actual animation which is certainly simplistic. It does take a moment to get used to, especially with the simplistic character designs that have the look of “First time using a Drawing Tablet on Microsoft Paint”. These are not complex characters to work with but, at least after a while, you accept that this is a style choice and just kind of go along with what’s being done with them… and that’s when the cracks form.

Lava Image
Still from LAVA

The Lava Problems

It feels like Lava needed more time to explore the ideas it was presenting because it just kind of goes from beat to beat so fast that it leaves the viewer confused. Hell, I know nothing about any of the characters beyond Deborah and even then all I know is she does tattoo art and is voiced by one of the biggest voices in 90s comedy but that’s it. 

The names of other characters and their wants really meant nothing, indeed there was a moment I was sure one of the main characters had died but then he was perfectly alive by the end so either there was a mix up in translation or something was not expressed properly… or something was cut, all I know is that following this story required accepting that you’re not going to follow it perfectly.

Speaking of that voice cast, the version that I watched and that features Janeane Garofalo is the dubbed version so these are not the original performances meaning lip movements won’t match, but the performances almost barely seem to match the tone either. I can’t even really tell you who the rest of the cast was because none of them matter beyond Janeane.

OK, truthfully, I could tell you who else is in Lava because the version that was provided for review has full credits and theoretically I could just fire it back up, go to the end, pause the movie and recite what’s there but there are two problems there. The first is that I would need to boot this film up again and I really just can’t be bothered even for something as basic as a name, but also I feel like the fact that none of the character names are memorable enough for me to remember within hours of viewing it is in itself an important fact to convey about this films memorability.

Lava Conclusion

The sad thing about all this is that, despite its many flaws, I still do kind of like Lava for what it’s trying to do. It’s simplistic style and weird concept appeal to me and as far as hours spent watching movies for review, I’ve seen worse this year *cough*Monster Hunter*cough* but it’s a piece that’s more interesting than actually entertaining. 

I almost want to study this piece and find out how each decision was made and what techniques were used to make it, certainly more than I would like to just watch it. It’s an oddity, but unlike a tattoo I’m fairly sure this won’t be permanently etched into my mind… which it probably should be since, again, it features Kaiju Cats.

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