Two computer programmers fall in love as they create the first ever piece of self-aware artificial intelligence, which is designed to help humanity. But things go wrong when the Ministry Of Defense steals their breakthrough and teaches it to become a robotic weapon.
It’s sort of a Tinseltown axiom to make movies about computers/robots with advanced A.I. every so often. Way back since Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and all the way up to the upcoming 5th entry in the Terminator franchise (Terminator: Genesis), Hollywood digs a good story about a robot that’s smarter than we are and doesn’t mind letting us know by threatening to take over the world and subjugate humanity. In director/writer Caradog W. James‘ latest film The Machine, the idea is a simplified version of Eve Of Destruction (1991), which actually gives it a far grittier feel.
Vincent (Toby Stephens), is designing a new form of A.I. that is so far in advance of anything designed prior that it might actually be capable of developing a form of self awareness that’s near human. But he’s on the cusp of this breakthrough at a time when a new cold war is burgeoning between the UK & China so Britain’s Ministry Of Defense is actively looking to convince him to utilize this new form of A.I. for combat to help ensure victory in case the cold war suddenly gets hot. Vincent has a new researcher working with him named Ava (Caity Lotz) but what looks to be a fruitful partnership ends before it begins when she’s killed by a Chinese assassin. So in true mad scientist form, Vincent creates a new robot modeled with Ava’s consciousness and soon this new robot develops abilities like no other cyborg ever produced before and this gets the attention of Vincent’s immediate supervisor, Thomson (Denis Lawson), who begins to manipulate the robot’s still developing mind into a combat mindset. It all ends in a showdown between Ava and the machine in a slam bang finale.
All the performances are sturdy and convincing here. Stephens plays the pseudo Dr. Frankenstein with a iciness that’s initially off putting but that’s more because of his drive rather than his personality, it doesn’t make him a bad person per se, just a driven one. Caity Lotz gives the human Ava a smart sexiness that’s really appealing. She doesn’t need to bat anyone over the head with a way over the top characterization, her intelligence silently shimmers from within and that makes her just as sexy as she needs to be. As the mechanized version of Ava, she decides to utilize a childlike voice that makes sense if you buy into the idea that she’s essentially a child but it does become annoying after a little while. Everyone else in the film does a great job of conveying their characters personas.
The cinematography (by Nicolai Bruel) in the film is both dreamy & dreary in equal portions. There’s a strong contrast between what goes on indoors and what’s happening outdoors with interiors seemingly shot with gauze over the camera lens to give the proceedings a languid, dreamlike quality but all other scenes are shot in a taut, clinical fashion that aids the sensation of something awful that’s blowing in the wind. But I will admit to nearly being lulled over a few times during some of the interior scenes that featured a lot of dialog. Luckily James’ script was both literate and gripping enough to have kept my interest from waning much.
The Machine isn’t looking to win you over with big action scenes, it wants to tell a story. It’s not big on over the top CGI scenes and assuming that there wasn’t too much of a budget here to work with that’s a good thing. I’ve seen far too many intriguing films that kill whatever was good about them with some really crappy CGI shots in an attempt to make themselves look a lot bigger than they actually are. But Smith has faith in his script and his actors ability to get the story across without a lot of fancy highfalutin’ CGI shots. It’s refreshing to see a film in which the expectations don’t exceed the abilities of the production for a change.
Although the budget limitations do seep through and become more evident (Especially towards the end), The Machine succeeds because instead of relying on what it doesn’t have it optimizes what it does. In doing so it creates a believable, entertaining & exciting slice of low budget sci fi that will engage it’s audience on multiple levels. It’s hardly perfect but it’s so well done that I was willing to ignore the issues I had with it. Simply put, it’s a winner!
The Machine – 3.5 out of 5 shrouds.