The Machine (2013)

(On Cable TV, August 2014) On one hand, this is a science-fiction film that at least tries to deal with questions about Artificial Intelligence, avoids the easy plot templates and comes from someplace other than Hollywood.  On the other hand, The Machine is a bit dull, somewhat derivative and feels a bit empty for genre SF readers.  It’s also dark and damp in ways that feel more low-budget than intentional (otherwise, this would be the worst-designed laboratory in scientific history).  The special effects are often dubious but occasionally successful then they need to count: much of the film hinges upon a machine construction sequence, and to its credit that’s where The Machine judiciously spends its SFX budget.  But compared to SF movies in general, it feel lackluster and often blunt-edged: for all of its thematic ambitions, the dialogue can be as on-the-nose as to be insulting.  Caity Lotz does a fine job at playing a dual role, while Toby Stephens is an acceptably bland anchor for the film.  There are interesting quirks in the script (including cyborgs developing their own communication channels) but much of the film’s surprises can be seen well in advance.  While the thematic ambitions of the film are higher than usual, they fail to cohere into anything resembling a self-consistent argument.  While The Machine is quite a bit better than many similarly-budgeted SF films, it falls into the uncanny valley of films that are just ambitious enough to fail in delivering their fullest potential.  Call it an interesting film if you must, but temper your expectations accordingly.

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