The Mirando Corporation, in an attempt to rebrand, or consign their previous nasty image to history, replace their CEO with Lucy Mirando, sister of previous controversial CEO Nancy. Their latest plan is to show off a new breed of super-pig, of which 26 have been distributed around the world, and have a competition 10 years down the line for the best one raised. Okja is the super-pig that was shipped out to South Korea, looked after by Mija and her grandfather at the top of a mountain. When the time comes around for the competition, things are rapidly changed for both Okja and Mija and not for the better.
Whilst this is a poignant and moving film, I found it to be a fairly unoriginal story with only fleeting bright sparks of performance. Undoubtably the production, and especially the effects of Okja herself, were absolutely fantastic. I found myself watching and wondering how they did it, especially the moments with Okja in the water. Having Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer) directing is a massive coup, as is the inclusion of Jake Gylenhall and Tilda Swinton. However, I found the rest of it to be only middling at best.
Jake Gyllenhaal is completely over the top as Dr Johnny, to the point of annoying, especially his TV persona. Tilda Swinton is superb as always, embodying Lucy Mirando, with her issues, and really brings this film to life but that isn’t enough by itself to elevate this film. Giancarlo Esposito is, once again, decidedly underhand and deceitful something he seems to be able to do with aplomb and Paul Dano is actually quite likeable in this, something that I haven’t been able to say in the films that I have seen him in in the past.
Where I found it wanting was the development of Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), she is never really allowed to grow and we don’t see much about her apart from her utter devotion to Okja, never stopping or giving up in her pursuit of getting her super-pig back. The animal-companion-kid story feels like it has been done multiple times before and pretty much each time it results in the same finale, which is why I felt that this film didn’t quite achieve anything new. The super pigs were obviously smart and loyal, as was shown by the cliff moment, but this was never really came back up apart from the ending moments. This is a shame as it would have added another level to the film, making it all the more emotional come the climax. On a plus note the ALF members were a welcome introduction, providing some action and tension that was otherwise missing throughout, and a little sprinkle of humour, which was much needed.
Saying all this, it is still an enjoyable experience and it shouldn’t detract from watching it. As far as Netflix films go this ranks about in the middle. It is no Beasts of No Nation or 13th, but then overall it is better than Spectral (which I had high hopes for as well) and ARC. High production values, it seems, can’t cover for a story lacking originality.