The Machine, 2013.
Written and Directed by Caradog W. James.
Starring Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, and Sam Hazeldine.
With an impoverished world plunged into a Cold War with a new enemy, Britain’s Ministry of Defence is on the brink of developing a game-changing weapon. Lead scientist Vincent McCarthy provides the answer with his creation, The Machine – an android with unrivalled physical and processing skills. When a programming glitch causes an early prototype to destroy his lab, McCarthy enlists artificial intelligence expert Ava to help him harness the full potential of a truly conscious fighting machine.
Have you ever finished watching a film and felt that, despite its technical merits and objective qualities, you’re simply not sure whether you liked it or not? That perhaps the film adds up to less than the sum of its parts? Many may feel that way after seeing new science-fiction thriller from writer and director Caradog James (2006’s Little White Lies).
Set in the near future, in the midst of a Cold War with China, Britain is at the forefront of robotic technology. Artificial limbs give their bearers super-strength and implants allow brain-damaged soldiers to interact with the world once more. The Ministry of Defence is hoping that an advanced artificial intelligence is key to winning the war; scientists Vincent (Toby Stephens, Severance, Die Another Day) and Ava (Caity Lotz, The Pact, Arrow) are close to creating the AI, but hope it will be used for peaceful means. Denis Lawson (Bleak House, Star Wars) plays scheming government stooge Thomson, who has Ava killed after she starts to discover the sinister side to events around the compound. This prompts Vincent, who has completed his research, to design the super-advanced robot with Ava’s appearance. And so, The Machine is born.
From here, the film explores questions about artificial intelligence, such as at what point would a sufficiently advanced AI merely be a mimic of real life or actually be fully alive, and how such a life form would eventually overshadow mankind, all before climaxing in a huge, action-packed shootout as Vincent and The Machine attempt to escape from the MoD and defeat Thomson.
The film, which has already won several awards, including best UK film at the 2013 Raindance film festival, has been favourably compared to sci-fi films such as Blade Runner. Other influences, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, are clearly evident in the film’s DNA. Much of the praise is well-earned: the synthesised and electro soundtrack brilliantly creates a moody, tense atmosphere, strongly evoking Blade Runner; while the stunts, CGI and visual effects are beyond stunning. Of particular note is the sequence where the newly created, metallic Machine is first shown, floating in a vat in the foetal-position. As a vision of a dystopic future Britain governed by what is implied to be fascist, militaristic government, it is very compelling.
One of the signs of a good sci-fi film is that it provokes questions in the audience, and The Machine manages to raise several fascinating questions about science, morality and humanity that audiences will talk about. The acting and writing is also generally very good, especially Lotz who performs dual roles as Ava and The Machine, whose emotional spectrum over the course of the film slides from naive innocent to cold-blooded killer.
However, the flashy surface doesn’t do enough to hide the fundamental fact that this is effectively a B-movie, evident in a number of ways. For instance, the over-the-top final act, where The Machine rips through several units of Special Forces with her bare hands, gets a little silly. Also, there are various plot contrivances: someone decides it was a good idea to trust the base’s whole security system to a single person (an implant-controlled woman called Suri, which might be a dig at the phone app Siri); we’re told that those with implants are unable to speak, but nobody on the base notices the dozens of times the implant soldiers speak to one another in strange computer voices. Furthermore, while the film manages to do a lot with a small budget, the world depicted never feels real, and locations are mostly limited to corridors, airplane hangars, labs and more corridors.
Other small annoyances held me back from truly enjoying the film. For instance, the decision to give The Machine a high-pitched, soft, childish voice may have been meant to communicate The Machine’s innocent nature, but in practise it sounds like a bad Marilyn Munroe impersonation, which became grating rather quickly.
I can’t wholly recommend you rush out and see this film, but fans of sci-fi and B-movies will get a kick out of it, and it’s definitely worth a watch.
The Machine is available on DVD and on demand from March 21st.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★