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Toronto After Dark: “The Machine”

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The-Machine

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  • Written By: Caradog W. James
  • Directed By: Caradog W. James
  • Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Sam Hazeldine

Toronto After Dark: “The Machine”

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It’s rare that a film with seemingly no budget for publicity or a trailer would be over-hyped, but that’s the case with Caradog W. James’ film, THE MACHINE. Since the film lacked publicity materials, several of the programmers at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival hyped it repeatedly. One even offered to buy anyone a beer who purchased a ticket and didn’t like the movie. Based on the vibe of the crowd leaving THE MACHINE, I fear TADFF had to buy more beers than anticipated.

Set in the near future, the West is at war with China, but it is a Cold War being fought through intelligent machines. Doctors like Vincent (Toby Stephens) are in high demand as they continue to push the barriers of what machines can do. At the beginning of the film, Vincent employs Ava (Caity Lotz) at his super sketchy military base. Ava soon gets Vincent to warm up to her as he maps her brain, because why not? Vincent reveals that he doesn’t really care what the military does as he’s using the technology to heal his sick daughter. Shortly thereafter, Ava is attacked and it is up to Vincent to preserve Ava in THE MACHINE, a robot who can feel and learn (or just reflects our experience of life depending on who you talk to). This creates rifts within the operation, leading to some scenes discussing philosophy and some with a lot of karate chopping.

What shocked me most after all the hype was how bland the film was. For a film that purports to be about life and pursuit of creating and sustaining life, it fell woefully short of capturing any essence of existence that felt emotionally true. THE MACHINE does indeed owe a great deal to BLADE RUNNER, but rather than expanding the arguments and ideas made in that film, it comes off as its needy younger sibling begging to tag along on the futuristic philosophy train.

Lotz and Stephens have a bizarre chemistry, one more akin to Bert and Ernie rather than colleagues and potential love interests. While Lotz bubbles through her early scenes and Stephens tries for a charming smolder, neither seem to be able to create any real emotion on screen. Denis Lawson as the evil government mouth-piece fairs better and adds a touch of colonial charm to his scenes. While director James was quick to point out in the video intro that this film was made for less than a million dollars, it’s interesting to note the selection of sequences where they chose to spend the money and the scenes which they tried to cover up by having what appeared to be a background full of fog. The money scenes are a direct homage of BLADE RUNNER, which made me ask, if James was so intent on putting money into the scenes that mimic an iconic director, why is he directing? The film reeks of retreading past science-fiction tropes in hopes of bringing back a more thoughtful science-fiction film. Unfortunately, it seems humans are not advanced enough to figure out how to do that.

Interestingly, the film convinced me that perhaps machines do have a life of their own. As the film approached its climax the Blu Ray disc began skipping and gave out as if it knew that the climax was useless. But humanity prevailed and the screening continued. The film winds down with an “out with the old in with the new” sentiment, which is absolutely fine. Given the context though, I couldn’t help thinking that at least a reel of film wouldn’t skip all over the place. Ah well, maybe the robots will get it right next time.

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