Starring: Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz, Denis Lawson
Genre: Thriller/ Sci-Fi
In the future a new cold war with China has plunged the Western world into economic crisis, with an emerging technological arms race in artificial intelligence. After a test goes wrong and kills his partner, Veteran AI engineer Vincent (Stephens) recruits the inexperienced but very talented Ava (Lotz) as his new partner to work in his MoD funded facility to develop the first ever self aware artificial intelligence. Despite Vincent having the best of intentions, what the two of them discover is a breakthrough they could have never imagined, and when used in the wrong hands, could be the deadliest weapon the world has ever seen.
Apart from perhaps the exception of Dr. Who, the low budget Welsh sci-fi genre is not the most prominent in film at the moment, however here we have The Machine, a film that is impressively made and contains some interesting and thought provoking ideas, but ultimately gets bogged down by flaws and generic genre clichés.
The whole idea of artificial intelligence and the possibilities surrounding that is not only a topical subject, but seemingly quite prominent in film at the moment. So what does The Machine offer that is any different? Well, I am afraid the answer to that question is ultimately very little. Admittedly this film does raise the pertinent question of if we design AI so well that it can think for itself, do we mere humans ultimately have a future amongst them? It is a question that is asked, but this often gets bogged down by clunky dialogue and clichéd narrative developments. I would argue the final scene is the most poignant and scary in addressing this question, but scenes like that are very few and far between.
With a very low budget, Caradog W. James does create an impressive atmosphere with a film that is extremely well shot, with pretty much the entire narrative taking place inside the murky underground MOD laboratory. James does manage to create a bleak and impressive atmosphere to the entire film, and while composer Tom Raybould seems to unashamedly announce that he is a huge fan of Vangelis’ score to Blade Runner and sometimes feel his score does feel a little too over the top, it does add to the atmosphere.
The performances themselves are adequate at best. Toby Stephens is solid but not spectacular as our very clichéd protagonist, while Caity Lotz (Arrow) does a solid job in her two different roles. Denis Lawson however gets to have the most fun; hamming it up as a nasty MOD bigwig who is an all round bad egg who wants to use this technology for military purposes (boo! hiss!), he is obviously enjoying himself! It is this that dominates the final third and its inevitable ‘dramatic’ finale that never really grips, but always entertains.
The Machine may not be anywhere near as high concept as it wants to be (budget restraints may have played a part), but at 91 minutes certainly never outstays its welcome and is always a watchable and entertaining, if slightly ultimately hollow, experience. On the evidence of this Caradog W. James may be another Joseph Kosinski, which of course is a slightly back handed compliment (anyone who has seen Oblivion should know what I mean).
The Machine is a low budget Brit sci-fi flick that is certainly well put together and always watchable, and does actually have some interesting ideas concealed within its extremely generic and clichéd narrative that unfortunately never truly come to fruition.