“They rise, we fall”
Directed by Caradog W. James
Starring Toby Stephens and Caity Lodz
Vincent McCarthy (Stephens) recruits Ava (Lodz) to help him work on an AI project. Their goal is to create implants to help people with brain damage live a full life, and in particular to reverse his daughter’s Rett syndrome, but the MoD who are funding the experiments want an AI to drive an infiltration android. When Ava is filed as a security risk and killed by alleged Chinese agents, Vincent creates the Machine in her image. He tries to teach Machine to be a moral agent, but as a confrontation between Vincent and project director Thomson (Dennis Lawson) becomes inevitable, it is by no means clear which side the Machine will be on.
What’s wrong with it?
The Machine was made in the twenty-first century, but is a weird sort of throwback to the 1980s. It’s primary problem, therefore, is that it’s all been done before. Much of the film also takes place in a faux-Bladerunner murk of noirish shadow, although the story isn’t actually in the noir genre.
Lodz’s Machine voice has a slightly irksome high-pitched lilt to it.
What’s right with it?
Made on a shoestring ($1 million is a shoestring these days), the film uses practical effects to good effect, and the cast are excellent.
How bad is it really?
Man, this film was a tough call. It’s not really bad; I think in the end it just reminded me of so many much worse films (I love Bladerunner, but it’s also reminiscent of Cyborg II, Nemesis and their ilk) that I felt it had to go here, which is a bit bizarre really.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The film doesn’t really have any stand out scenes.
What’s up with…?
- The security cyborgs’ incendiary internal discipline? Project security is handled by soldiers with brain implants who seem to have gone mute, but turn out only to communicate with each other. Near the beginning of the film, they set one of their own on fire for… reasons?
- The Machine’s humanity manifesting by apparently falling in love with her surly, misanthropic creator?
- The mock-Vangelis soundtrack?
Production values – The film is a masterclass in how to make an SF film without big money, but the climactic firefight, in which Machine takes no visible damage, is a bit of a let down. 7
Dialogue and performances – The film is occasionally a bit mumbly, but the worst failing of the dialogue is that it is functional, without much in the way of memorable moments. The acting is solid throughout, with only Machine’s early falsetto being a little grating. 8
Plot and execution – Pretty solid throughout. 4
Randomness – A couple of beats seem to be there in order to have them (robot in love with creator in particular), but otherwise the film mostly seems to know what it’s about. 6
Waste of potential – The film does very well with its small budget, but it’s failure to do anything significantly new is disappointing. Given the talent involved, I could have hoped for something more inventive. 9