With the release of Divergent and countless other young adult adaptations that have preceded it, The Machine tackles the fear of the dystopian future, but this time it’s targeting a slightly older audience. With apt comparisons to Blade Runner and Frankenstein, and also notable traces of Splice, Caradog James’ The Machine is at times an evocative, but flawed piece of cinema.
Toby Stephens plays the not-so-mad but actually affable scientist Vincent who is working on a top-secret project for the government, attempting to create the perfect artificial intelligence system to fight off the Chinese in a new Cold War – one with radical complexity. The film comes alive – no pun intended – once his assistant Ava (played by Caity Lotz, a clear standout) is murdered and becomes Vincent’s “monster”. There is a particularly memorable shot of the “new” Ava’s – or her new alias the Machine’s – reflection seen in the pool of blood, almost a foreshadowing of the events that are about to commence.
Beyond the thrilling high concept, the film also delves into philosophical territory. Naturally, Vincent begins to question the bleak government under which he operates. The Machine insists she is “alive” constantly, which Vincent attempts to debunk. At one point, the Machine states: “What makes my clever imitation of life any different from theirs?” to which Vincent replies “they’re human, they are alive”. But would you be able to distinguish the difference between The Machine or a human? One of the actual humans she is referring to is in fact Vincent’s daughter who, it is worth mentioning, is ill – a sub-plot thematically relevant as it makes one ponder the construction of identity. Anybody who has seen Under the Skin will know that it touched upon similar ideas, but in a more abstract manner.
Lotz has a tough job to portray both the empathetic and robotic facets of the Machine successfully, creating a full, rounded character much needed for this film, which has a lot to say about the human condition.
The 80s synth music feels like a nostalgic throwback to the sci-fi pictures of that era, most specifically the aforementioned Blade Runner (which, truth be told, is always an advisable reference point for sci-fi filmmakers), but the polished, slick cinematography gives it a more post-modern feel. But the modest budget does show at times; naturally it would with such a larger-than-life story.
The Machine is in cinemas nationwide now.
Watch the trailer for The Machine here: