Last week marked the debut of Jim Munroe's latest indie flick, Ghosts with Shit Jobs, at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival. It played to a rapturous, sold-out crowd, and for good reason: As one of the festival organizers said, it's rare to see really smart, biting science fiction satire these days. Made for a budget of $5,000 by a group of filmmakers in Canada, written by Munroe (Infest Wisely), this movie is a weird, sad look at digital drudgery in Toronto after the economy collapses.
Ghosts with Shit Jobs is a mockumentary made by a Chinese film crew about those "poor people" over in Toronto and how they manage to survive despite their horrific working conditions. With pitch-perfect condescension and cluelessness, our intrepid documentarians reveal what it means to be human spam, a robot breeder, mutant spider silk gatherer, and something a lot worse.
The documentary trope will immediately remind you of the worst kind of sensationalist reporting today in the West about the horrors of working conditions in China. While those horrors are quite real, Munroe's flick suggests they're made worse by armchair commentary coming from rich people across the sea tut-tutting over how amazing it is that "those people over there" are happy to kill themselves working ten-hour days. The documentary investigates four "shit jobs" done by people called "ghosts" — Cantonese slang for white people.
We meet two brothers whose parents lost everything when "the cloud was repossessed." Now they live in a tent on a Toronto roof, spending their days gathering spiderwebs left over from an invasion by giant, mutant spiders. They trade the apparently valuable webs for water, and the more foolish of the two brothers dreams of the day when he'll scale the CN Tower to find the spiderweb motherlode. Then we enter a posh, empty office full of people sitting on pillows on the bare floors, staring into space and tapping invisible keyboards. Into their midst walks the human spammer, a woman who takes temp jobs so that she can drop keywords and brand names into conversations with wealthy people (the more the make, the more she gets paid). She carefully cultivates relationships with rich people just so she can take them places where brand names will come up naturally.
And then there's the couple stuck in a low-end robotics job, building realistic baby robots for Chinese kids. They're saving their money so the wife in the couple can go to an Asian robotics show and demo the battlebots she's been perfecting in between taking care of dozens of screaming, pooping, barfing baby robots. Finally, there's the most tragic of our shit job workers. The digital janitor works on the future version of The Wayback Machine, a perfect copy of the real world recorded by surveillance equipment over the past decades, that's being turned into an immersive virtual reality simulation. Our janitor's job is to go in and paint over all brand names to avoid IP litigation. Though all the hours he spends in the simulation are causing his brain to bleed, he begs his boss to override the 8-hour-day restrictions so he can work just a little more overtime. The truly sad part, as he explains to the documentary crew, is that he's having to paint over some of his favorite childhood memories of the toys he owned (showing the toys could constitute infringement).
As we get to know these people, the film balances neatly between its often goofy satirical tone and the characters' unsettlingly plausible responses to a world where they have few good choices. As Munroe said during a Q&A after the movie premiere in London, his future isn't necessarily supposed to be an accurate prediction of tomorrow's geopolitics. It's just picking up on current economic trends, taking them to an extreme, and showing us how regular people might be affected. Despite the humor of the mutant spiders, baby robots, and spammer-on-spammer catfights, we do feel our characters' pain deeply. And their hope, too, even in the face of humiliations and setbacks.
Eventually, the documentarians decide to give us a special treat by bringing all the people they've profiled together. And that's when we finally see the raw desperation our characters feel, and their sadness. This movie will leave you emotionally shaken, your brain teeming with weird new ideas about how the future might really look.
If you like thoughtful, poignant satire, you need to watch Ghosts with Shit Jobs now. It's playing at film festivals currently, and Munroe is also making it available as a digital download. Find out more on the official website, where you can also watch a ton of clips.