Sometimes a film feels like an advert for what those involved could do with a little more money. The Machine is a little like that, although that’s not to say it’s a failure on its own – just that visually it’s trying to do a lot with not a lot of cash (and at that it succeeds) but the script could have done with being a little tighter.
The film is set in the near future when tensions between the West and China have pushed the world to the edge of war. Vincent (Toby Stephens) is a scientist doing ground-breaking work in a secret facility, where he takes severely injured people and gives them neural implants in the hope of creating mechanised soldiers – however it’s not entirely successful. He brings in Ava (Caity Lotz), who’s done incredible work with artificial intelligence, working on a self-teaching computer that can hold a conversation that’s almost indistinguishable from a living person.
After Ava and Vincent grow closer, a terrible tragedy rips them apart. Vincent then takes their work further by implanting Ava’s AI into a synthetic body, to create a machine that is scarily close to being human. It’s not always a perfect facsimile, but it may well be conscious. Vincent hopes the project will provide the possiblility of a future for his sick child, but his nefarious boss (Denis Lawson) has other, more dangerous plans.
The Machine is a genuinely interesting film, touching on all sorts of issues from medical ethics and the potential for computers to dehumanise us, to how you can tell whether something is self-aware, and whether science will eventually render humanity obsolete. However while these ideas swirl around, it often feels as if the movie isn’t 100% sure what to do with them. The Machine deliberately tries to create mystery and a sense of the enigmatic. This certainly works, but it sometimes feels like it’s obscuring the fact that it isn’t sure what it wants to say beyond the obvious. That’s especially true as underneath the enigmatic is a plot that rarely goes anywhere unexpected.
What does set it apart are the visuals. Despite its low budget, the special effects are impressive and often slightly mesmerising, with implanted people’s eyes shining and the machine glowing to show what’s underneath her skin. It’s extremely well done and goes beyond purely looking nice as it helps tell the story, and paradoxically when it shows the machine’s mechanical side it often makes her seem more human.
Many have compared The Machine to Blade Runner and you can certainly see the parallels. As others have suggested it could almost be a prequel showing what happened at the very beginning of the process that resulted in replicants running around being chased by Harrison Ford. I doubt The Machine will live on like Blade Runner has, but it still has plenty to offer fans of that type of sci-fi.
Overall Verdict: If the script could have corralled its thoughts a little more and been as good as the visuals and effects, The Machine could have been a masterpiece rather than just a pretty good slice of British science fiction.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac