The Machine Movie Review
British filmmaker Caradog James makes the most of a tiny budget with this chilling sci-fi thriller. Toying with big ideas about the repercussions of artificial intelligence, James keeps the focus on the human element, which makes it thoroughly engaging and darkly haunting. It may feel somewhat over-serious, but it also gets us thinking.
Set in the near future, the story centres on top scientist Vincent (Toby Stephens), who is hired by the Ministry of Defense to create a sentient machine that will help the West win the arms-race against China. Vincent has already perfected robotic repairs for wounded soldiers, and now begins working with sharp new assistant Ava (Arrow's Caity Lotz). But as Ava's snooping gets her in trouble, Vincent decides to combine her knowledge of programming with his technical expertise and create a thinking, feeling robot. And of course, Vincent's boss (Denis Lawson) immediately wants to put it to military use.
The film looks terrific, as writer-director James uses military imagery and a creepy underground bunker setting to build an overpowering sense of menace. So even if the script only barely cracks the surface, the characters all seem shifty and dangerous as we discover more about them. Especially the military meatheads who have had corrective brain implants and can communicate between themselves in a secret language.
In other words, we quickly get the feeling that everything could go nuts at any time. And Stephens is terrific as the one sensible person we can identify with, even as he grapples with his own internal demons. Lotz steals the show as both the feisty scientist and the machine created in her image. And Lawson is superb as always in an against-type role as a bloodthirsty warmonger.
Without much cash to work with, James adds visually inventive touches to every scene that draw us in further, holding our attention with a mesmerising dreaminess that circles in on itself to explore ideas of identity and consciousness. It's all rather murky, badly in need of some earthy, offhanded humour. But it's so stylish that we enjoy getting lost in the shadows.