The scent of madness: The flowery horror of "Little Joe"

The first thing I noticed about the film Little Joe was the color palette. The tones of red and purple were present in many scenes, from the startling red hair of the main protagonist, to the eerie magenta glow of the greenhouse of the titular pseudo MacGuffin: the bloody tendrils of the plant itself. This palette, which drenches the scenes, is a signal to numinous occurrences.  The color primes us for the subtle, hypnotic effect, and this color motif is the thing that stays with me. 

Little Joe is about Alice, a scientist at a botanical biotech company who develops a flower that releases a scent that makes people happy. She calls it an “anti-depressant” plant, one that requires the owner be devoted to the care of the bright red bloom. Against company procedures, Alice brings the plant home for her son, who she feels guilty about neglecting. Soon, she notices subtle, disturbing changes in his behavior.

Little Joe is an example of Weird Cinema, at the interstices of several genres, including science fiction and horror. But the pacing takes cues from psychological thrillers. While there are moments of suspense and eeriness,  this is a more cerebral type of horror, one that relies on ambiguity. The slow blooming, unfurling Little Joe plants are accompanied by ambient whispers that tingle along your spine. The influence of the plant is suggestive, and rather than over the top madness, the effect seems to be a malingering indifference to the world.

(Also, the idea of a supernatural flower in the purple-pink spectrum of course reminded me of the Marsh Bell!)