Directed by James Bird.
Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Elena Kampouris, Doron Bell, Agam Darshi, Fletcher Donovan, Alix Villaret, Caitlin Stryker, Rachelle Goulding and Sara Sampaio.
When artificial human Meredith (Kampouris) gets assigned as a companion to grieving widower William (Meyers), it’s designed to behave like his late wife. However, an underground organization attempts to sabotage Meredith’s AI programming. It soon begins to question reality as memories of a past life begin to resurface in a world where nothing is as it seems…
“Update your wife. Upgrade your life.”
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays William Bradwell, a man left empty by the death of his wife, Meredith. Yet to aid in his recovery, what better way than to replace his former flesh-and-blood partner with a cutting-edge AI Meredith created by mega-corporation Wifelike? She looks, sounds and thinks like the real thing with memories and information fed into her processor unit, and she is brought to life brilliantly by Elena Kampouris.
Kampouris has the physical and vocal performance of an AI being spot-on, harkening those scarily real AI dolls seen across Asia. Gentle movements, glassy eyes that seem to look through her co-stars and a voice that would fit any Apple device.
The detail in bringing Meredith to life is rather amusing, with attention to detail paid on the simple things like making love. William first has to activate voice command, initiate intimacy settings, adjust level of sexual desire and even save the English language settings when she talks Japanese. But as soon as the humane actions are done, it’s back to the charging station and a feedback survey offered for satisfaction, and even warning her with an “Access Denied” block when she tries the self-exploration mode.
It’s one of more simple but seemingly realistic approaches to AI companions on film, again thanks to Kampouris’s performance. She never fails to make watching her interesting but slightly uncomfortable because she never loses her AI mannerisms, and you can’t help be invested in her growth and learning, but never really knowing where it will take her.
Bird has fused the battle against dangerous, mind-bending corporations of Total Recall, the distorted reality of The Matrix and the noir AI crime story of Blade Runner for his narrative. Bradwell must prevent the rising threats from anti-AI rebels, turning companions against their creators, all the while finding solace with one of his own to fill the hole in his life. It’s a futuristic world with Tesla-esque electric cars, sleek video walls, neon lights illuminating busy cities shady underground resistance fighters. Yet it’s not all expensive CGI and grandeur.
Bird keeps a sense of realism about things, with the seedy threat of crime and commercial greed not too far away in our locations such as safe houses, shiny offices and labs. There is also no holding back on the violence that creeps in from Bradwell doing his duty. Meyers may play second fiddle in this story, but he’s got a world-weary edge to his character that suits him well, never really buying into his happiness as he masks the inner pain whilst seeking the truth, ever questioning if he’s a hero or villain – or both?
As director and writer, Bird has not just blended ideas from existing science-fiction works and visuals for his film, but avoided all out action. Instead it’s a curious self study that almost flips the Schwarzenegger character Doug Quaid from Total Recall to now put us with Meredith as she starts to remember visions from a potential past life before her creation, with shady figures from the past coming out of the woodwork to threaten everything Bradwell fights for, and lives for.
This is a quiet addition to the sci-fi genre of AI mixing with humanity, but is restrained enough to be more chilling than others. Wifelike channels a chilling sexual dominance theme much like The Stepford Wives, exploiting the relationship and status of man and woman until the very end. Danger is bubbling away under the surface from the very start until it boils over for a chilling, twisty climax aided by the powerful Vangelis-like score from Rich Walters.
Wifelike is not an all out action film so don’t go in expecting bang for your buck, but it’s a well produced and entertaining thriller with great performances that build a human/AI world where everything blurs between what is real and what isn’t.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★