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.
Continue reading: The Machine Review
While this strikingly well-made film is a great calling card for rising-star filmmaker Norris, it's also so relentlessly dark and unsettling that it's difficult to see the point of it all. This is such a bleak coming-of-age tale that it almost obscures any hope at all, focussing a series of horrific incidents into a confined space that gives the actors and filmmaker a change to shine, but leaves the audience exhausted.
It's set in a North London cul-de-sac, where the pre-teen Skunk (Laurence) lives with her big brother Jed (Milner), her single dad (Roth) and her nanny Kasia (Marjanovic). But her happy life is thrown into chaos when violence erupts: hotheaded widower Bob (Kinnear) storms across the street and punches simple-minded Rick (Emms), seemingly for no reason, triggering a series of events that Skunk struggles to understand. And Bob's three daughters seem to be just as violent. One (Bryant) is mercilessly bullying Skunk at school, while another (Daveney) is seducing Jed.
The way so many story elements circle around Skunk makes the film feel almost like a stage play. Everyone is so interconnected that we wonder if much of this exists only in her mind. For example, Kasia has just started a relationship with Skunk's schoolteacher (Murphy), who has been accused of abusing one of Bob's daughters. And there are even more issues that put Skunk in both emotional and physical peril, including a new boyfriend (Sergeant) who might have to move away and the fact that she has Type 1 diabetes. And Skunk's world seems to be limited to her street and a junkyard across the field.
Continue reading: Broken Review
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