Director: Christian Duguay. Starring: Peter Weller, Jennifer Rubin, Roy Dupuis, Andrew Lauer. Canada, USA, 1994. IMDB: 6.4. My rating: 3.5/4.
– Well, you’re coming up in the world – you’ve learned how to kill
(Colonel Hendricksson about two screamers fighting each other)
– Jefferson, you must be confusing me with someone who gives a shit.
For a horror story set on a faraway planet, where almost nothing alive is left and killer robots keep on furrowing the ground in search of a new prey, “Screamers” is a very sentimental movie. Under a bloody and violent disguise one can easily feel that it’s also a story about alienation and loneliness. Then mix enough dark humour, abandoned wastelands on a faraway planet, robots with human-like disguise and extreme cynicism. Yes, it’s a B-movie – and it’s exactly that type of B-movie that we sometimes need so much.
2078. Sirius 6b, once a prospering mining colony, is now some kind of an abandoned wasteland – a result of a long civil was between 2 fractions who couldn’t find agreement on how to proceed. One of them, Alliance, created AMS (Autonomous Mobile Swords) that are so effective and hunting down their enemy fraction. These self-replicating machines are called “screamers” because of an incredibly high sound they produce during the attack. Few people are still left on this planet and try to find a way to escape from it. It seems that 2 fractions finally managed to have some truce. But colonel Joseph Hendricksson (Peter Weller) feels that more probably both sides have abandoned their armies, leaving them to slowly vanish here.
The world here is full of rust and despair. It looks deadly desperate. Abandoned facilities. Empty deserts covered with snow look. Nothing moves here. Nothing happens. Almost everyone has left or died. Many got killed by each other, others by screamers. There are still some people who exist here… yes, “exist” would be the right word. Great, remarkable decorations (mostly Quebec industrial areas). Just seeing how lonesome people cross these hollow landscapes is impressive. Sentimental music and their small, mostly highly cynical small talk underlines their loneliness.
Pretty soon both sides realized that screamers learnt how to improve themselves, replicate and create various kind of disguises that look absolutely human, like a small boy with a teddy bear (type 3), the wounded soldier (type 4). We still don’t know though what type 2 looks like. It makes the atmosphere pretty tense as everybody suspect each other, finally that leads to shooting one of fellow soldiers. He repeatedly same phrases over and over (it was thought that screamers’ vocabulary is very limited).
The good thing is that “Screamers” never over-concentrates on something (that would made it a failure). It doesn’t try to develop complex concepts about the identity like “Blade Runner”. It’s not a 100% horror but it has its tense moments that will make you nervous. It has enough plot twists and till the end you don’t know who is who, when even Hendricksson himself suspects he is a robot. It doesn’t rely too much on special effects – the CGI looks pretty old here, but it looks like an integral part of the movie. It has enough romantics and humour too. Simply put, “Screamers” does a little bit of everything without trying to be exceptional in it, and it does it so well, that it makes it versatile and remarkable, you never get bored.
Peter Weller plays a cynical and experienced soldier who still has some hope in getting out of this planet. Great and memorable role. As the story unveils, under the mask of a cynical soldier starts to appear a sentimental and lonely man. Speaking mostly with short rough one-liners, he nevertheless accepts to take the boy they found in the ruins (to find out later that it’s a disguised screamer), he begs Jessica to continue their trip because “you’re the only thing I have left”.
Other actors are really good as well. All of them have brisk and memorable characters. The music is surprisingly good (mostly orchestral, by Jerry Devilliers – I found out that he mostly just did some lesser known TV series and that’s all) and contributes really well to the overall atmosphere. I actually don’t like the overused orchestra soundtracks in the 80’s and early 90’s sci-fi, but here it’s perfect.
The movie is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety”, where the action took place on Earth and was more about the post-Cold War era. The production was painful and it was a box office failure (roughly $20 million budget vs. $ 5 million box office), criticized by almost everybody upon its release. Nevertheless, “Screamers” gained a cult status with time, regularly being part of various sci-fi tops. I can understand that. The movie didn’t look groundbreaking or innovative when it came out, nor it had big fast-paced action scenes. But they are not needed here.
Worth watching? Absolutely, if you like good old sci-fi. “Screamers” has all the ingredients in the right place and doesn’t take itself too seriously, leaving enough space for gore, fun and just a good human story.