Neptune Frost (2022)

Director: Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Starring: Cheryl Isheja, Bertrand Ninteretse, Eliane Umuhire, Elvis Ngabo, Rebecca Mucyo, Trésor Niyongabo

My review of Neptune Frost was first published at Bloody Good Screen.

In the opening narration, Neptune (Elvis Ngabo) shares how living a life with Auntie led to being considered a “good boy”, although it was without freedom. Audiences meet the lead at Auntie’s funeral, where the burial symbolises Neptune shedding life’s constraints to run away, intending to finally live a life not governed by anyone else.

This leads Neptune to a village, where the character is transformed and now played by Cheryl Ishejas. This casting choice allows differing sides to be shown to the same character through a gender fluid lens. Crossing paths with the lead is Matalusa (Kaya Free), a coltan miner who watched his brother’s death caused by a foreman. The characters find love with each other, although this element feels undercooked.

Based on his own script, Saul Williams co-directs with Anisia Uzeyman to craft a vision of the future commenting on the state of today’s world. Key to that is coltan, an ore that’s vital to smartphones and computers. Despite being a necessary part of modern communication, the miners responsible are invisible to the wider world. A later song includes the prominent line “Fuck Mr. Google”, using the search-engine as a face for the cruel conditions these people must work in to meet their oppressors’ demands.

Often mentioned is The Authority, whose dangerous enforcers try suppressing the human spirit for a system that enforces automation. The people try breaking apart from it to rebuild their lives, reclaiming technology by integrating it throughout their camp in buildings and prosthetics. There’s vibrant imagination on show from the outstanding costume designs to the unique dialogue, and the latter is worthwhile for the line “One who swallows a whole coconut trusts his anus.” Integrated within the story are musical interludes which avoid earworm style tunes for unique sounds, yet the final tunes are unable to stick in the mind. What’s more effective is Saul Williams’ tremendous score, feeling otherworldly and carrying an impact which the musical numbers lacked.

It’s better to approach the film as a loose assembly of ideas instead of a traditional feature, because what plot is delivered clashes with a more experimental style. For viewers that aren’t swept up by this deviation from the norm, there may be difficulty in getting onboard with what’s unfolding. Regardless of what camp viewers fall into, the exceptional cinematography can be admired for how tremendously it brings alive this vibrant world rooted in Afrofuturism which celebrates Black Queerness.