Review: THE MACHINE, Modest Budget, Great Sci-Fi
Sam Hazeldine, Caity Lotz, Denis Lawson and Toby Stephens star. Caradog W. James directed.
The Western world is deadlocked in a Cold War with China.
Vincent works for the Ministry of Defense, developing technology, such as implants and prosthetics. Soldiers wounded in battle and saved by his work make up the bulk of the security at his underground research facility. Other than developing a new war machine for the MOD Vincent uses his paychecks to fund his own research to save his ill daughter.
He hires Ava, a bright and beautiful researcher played by Caity Lotz, and together they begin their research with MOD heavy Thomson (played by Denis Lawson a.k.a. Wedge from Star Wars) looming over their shoulders. Shortly thereafter, Ava is assassinated, and Vincent uploads her consciousness into their new Machine.
The Machine tiptoes between sci-fi actioner and sci-fi thinker. As much as it waxes philosophical about the evolution of A.I., it does not get bogged down by it. It floats effortlessly -- sometimes it feels without abandon -- through its story. And this is the only real concern, that James' script feels so loose with the details and plot points.
Without any real sense of motivation or explanation, Ava plunges headlong into the dark underbelly of the research facility. The purpose, of course, is to get her into a perilous situation. The end result is her consciousness being uploaded into the humanoid. The pace is brisk; there is no denying that.
Without a doubt though, James' greatest strength is his eye for visuals. Though the budget may be modest, what James achieves with it is nothing short of incredible. Not discounting influences like Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner, James admits that he loves playing with light, and that is clear from the very first frame. With over 400 effects shots seamlessly blended in, The Machine just looks great! The Machine is visually remarkable from start to finish. Add to that the incredible prosthetic work of FX guy Paul Hyett and you have a film that feels much, much larger than its bankroll.
Caity Lotz bears the brunt of physical demands in the film. Not only does she handle the transition from Human to Humanoid well but her physicality from there on in is great. I remember seeing flourishes of her action chops in the show Death Valley and we get to see even more of that in The Machine.
Her physicality is not limited to action scenes. We also see Ava's journey of self discovery and growth. When she wakes up as Ava the Machine, there is this child-like innocence she has to emote. And as Ava grows through a series of strenuous experiences inflicted upon her by baddie Thomson, she becomes more of the Machine that the MOD desires. Lotz's range from tenderness to terrifying is terrific!
And where did Pooneh Hajimohammadi come from? Wow! Even with a scar along the side of her head, this Iranian actress a stunner. Just her visual presence alone in the film is noteworthy. Not much else is asked of her but to be this very intense and commanding leader of the implanted guards but you cannot take your eyes off of her!
The Machine shows you can achieve great things with a modest budget. This might suck if you have a project and you're looking for a hefty bankroll. Though its story may feel fleeting at times, it is still an engaging sci-fi thriller, anchored on the stunning visual prowess of director Caradog James.
Review originally published during Fantasia in July 2013. The film is now streaming on Shudder.
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