Director: Caradog W. James
Cast: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Dennis Lawson
Release date: 21st March 2014 (UK)
Miserable sci-fi as a genre has recently fallen by the wayside in the wake of an onslaught of superheroes and Tolkien-esque fantasy. There was a time in the 80s when tales of robots and science gone wrong was all the rage. Blade Runner and The Terminator painted a grim future devoid of hope that viewers living under the perceived threat of nuclear war and new deadly diseases lapped up. These days we seem to be more hopeful about science with films like Her and Robot and Frank portraying a hopeful vision of the near future. All of this means that The Machine seems out-of-place in this bright era of progress. Here’s why:
The Machine is a Welsh (?!!) film that tells a cautionary tale set in 2020 where a cold war with China is in full swing and the UK’s Ministry of Defense is a participant in the arms race to counter the threat. AI engineer Vincent (Toby Stephens) with the help of assistant Ava (Caity Lotz) is attempting to build a military cyborg that looks like a human to infiltrate that pesky eastern superpower. Needless to say things go south and the android modelled on the recently deceased Ava doesn’t play nice.
The first point I’ll make is that The Machine is obviously a very low-budget film. This is usually a big no-no in the world of sci-fi but what the director does with the money is extremely impressive. The whole movie pretty much all takes place in an underground science bunker but the actual special effects are excellent. Ava pulses with an orange light that displays the technology under her skin and helps to convey her emotional state. Played by an impressive Caity Lotz, she juxtaposes a child-like innocence with a deadly violent side to her personality.
The Machine is obviously a throwback to the futuristic films of the 80s with its aesthetics and the heavy synth soundtrack channelling Vangelis and his minimalist chums. I’ll get this out of the way quickly – I’ve never loved Bladerunner. There, I said it. So It was enevitable that this movie would leave me cold. At least Bladerunner had the visual appeal of it’s wondrous cityscape, a club that The Machine doesn’t have in its bag (where the hell did that golf metaphor come from? I hate golf). The central theme of the film, whether an intelligent machine has the same basic right to live as a human, gets sidetracked by a subplots involving Vincent’s sick child meaning we spend less time with the titular machine.
The Machine is a solid movie that throws up some interesting questions about artificial intelligence. However it becomes bogged down with its plodding pace and dull script. By the time the exciting climax comes you’ll probably be glad it’s almost over. Like its central character, The Machine is a strangely soulless product with a heart that makes itself present a little too rarely. One for grim sci-fi aficionados that might leave the majority of viewers cold.
Agree with the score? What would you do if you created a sexy killer robot? I’d probably use it to kill people. In a sexy manner. How many Welsh movies have you seen? Let me know the answers to all the questions in the comments below! And for a second opinion on the film take a gander at The IPC’s review of The Machine