The Machine

f04c6c2af663d16125acc53ff0ea71e9.jpgDirector: James W. Caradog. Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Sam Hazeldine. UK, 2013. Budget: $1 million. IMDb: 6.1. My rating: 3.5/4. Noir cyberpunk tale about the border between humans and A. I.

– How do I know that you’re alive and not just a clever imitation of life?
(one of the main scientists)

”The Machine” beats the recent ”Ghost in the Shell” adaptation with an incredible ease. If it were done in the 80-s, it would have been a cult movie. But it’s a 2013 directional debut by the Welsh director James W. Caradog, so let’s just be humble and categorize it as… almost excellent. 

I have often been harsh with independent sci-fi about A. I. There hasn’t been much of it in last decade – I mean, the good one that makes think and feel, like ”Automata’ or ”Ex Machina”. Most of the others failed, taking the easy path of violence like ”A. I. against humans” or puzzles like “guess-who-is-robot-who-is-human”, which I find it incredibly boring.

So I prepared for the worst after watching the trailer of ”The Machine”, but found out something completely different. And it seems not only me. I have no idea why it was promoted (according to the trailer and poster) as an action-based sci-fi about A. I. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turns out to be dense, smart and sensible science fiction, and in the last place it’s about gore and rampage.

The plot. Near future. The West is in state of a Cold War with China. British scientists are working on creating android killing machines that will help in case of a real war that seems inevitable. Implants and artificial limbs for humans are being developed. Ava, a young scientist, joins Vincent in the hidden research facility in the attempt to develop the first self-aware artificial intellect. But they are on the edge of something bigger.

What I liked. ”The Machine” feels like a spiritual sibling of ”Blade Runner”, but consciously done in a harsher way. What surprised me most is that often it felt really scary – and not because of some cheap thrills. It’s because of how well it shows a thin line between humans and androids. Fear of the unknown. Few examples…

  • The guards that work as security in this research facility are for the most part wounded or partially disabled war veterans. They were given artificial limbs to substitute missing body parts or special implants that help to recover whatever sense they miss (in case their brain, sight, hearing etc were damaged), but it has certain side effects. Pretty soon they lose the ability to speak – nobody knows why, but a brilliant explanation is given later in the movie – and it seems that they start to have more of the machine than of human.
  • As the Machine (the main character) is ”born”, she behaves almost as a normal human, with small subtle differences that feel incredibly weird. There is a brilliant episode when the Machine is thinking that she is smiling to Vincent, but in fact her ”smile” looks like a sinister grin because she doesn’t know how to smile – but she doesn’t realize it, saying that she smiles it in  the same way as humans. The Machine doesn’t see the difference, so she heads to the mirror in order to learn how to smile. It looks creepy. This scene alone feels incredibly powerful.

Plus there are many episodes that feel really tense as they show broken, distorted human emotions, as if seen through a broken glass. Very creative and thoughtful approach. ”The Machine” shares a lot with the recent adaptation of ”Ghost in the Shell”, but it explores things in a deeper and more original way. Shame on you, Hollywood.

The acting is much better that one could expect from a $1 million budget directional debut of this kind – and not only from main protagonists Kaity Lotz (awesome double role here), Toby Stephens and Denis Lawson, but from incredible background characters as well. Iranian-born Pooneh Hajimohammadi and Sam Hazeldine did especially a great job, portraying people with mutilated and warped senses and emotions, avoiding any kind of cliches that are typical for the genre. Kaity Lotz was very good (nothing to do with the awful ”400 Days“), taking the role more seriously than portraying just a newly-created A. I. She managed to show a very wide array of emotions, from childish first steps and mistakes to delusions and learning how to survive in a cruel human world.

The movie is beautiful visually as well. It borrows a lot from “Blade Runner” visual style, and thanks God it does. It never becomes the end in itself though, blending the visuals with the narrative and using them as an integral part of the story. Everything feels organic here. With a tiny $1 million budget the Welsh director James W. Caradog and his team did really a good job. The movie never looks cheap. The synth-based soundtrack gives the warm 80-s feel as well.

What I didn’t like. There are certain moments that feel a little bit like a cliche (mostly the villain part that felt strained), but compared to the overall creativity and thoughtfulness put into the movie, let’s just close eyes to it. Finally, you cannot want everything from such a good debut like here.

Worth watching? Yes. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most original and well-crafted movies about A. I. of the last decade. It may not be as delicate and refined as ”Ex Machina” – and we don’t need another ”Ex Machina” anyway, don’t we? – but feels fresh, original and creative. Good old dense cyberpunk with an intense texture and often scary feel. A must-see for anyone who’s into thinking sci-fi.

Watch also: ”Automata”, ”Ex Machina”.

3.5/4

 

12 thoughts on “The Machine

  1. Dang. You make this sound like a good movie. I have a soft spot for low-budget movies that try to knock it out the part.

    Have you ever heard of Brandon Tenold? He is a YouTube personality that reviews low budget films specifically. I bet he’d take a look at this one. Plus, I’m sure he’d admire your content.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. I was really surprised as too often low budget sci-fi about A. I. is a total disaster. Either it’s a brainy meaningless puzzle or a violent cheap looking flick. Thought ”The Machine” would belong to the second category thanks to the trailer and poster, but it’s dense and smart. Oh!

      Which is your own favourite low budget sci-fi?

      I haven’t heard of him, but I’ve just checked the YouTube channel and think he didn’t cover it. Thanks for a hint! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Awesome review, and introduction to this film and the world of indie sci-fi. It’s a world I hope to become better acquainted with as I read your blog over time.

    I have seen Ex Machina several times and thought it was amazing. Now I know an Easter egg in that movie, which is that Ava, the A.I. Is named after the researcher, Ava from this film!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the words, Jason! There’s lots of stuff to explore, and it’s a difficult genre with lots of rubbish, so often small and lesser known gems like “The Machine” remain virtually unknown. ‘Ex Machina’ is a superior movie, it is a true masterpiece and is rightfully destined to be remembered for decades. But Welsh movie is a good one, even if it does not have all the excellence of ‘Ex Machina’, where everything was done right there and no unnecessary compromise in order to get the funds. Alex Garland, a talented guy, has now a bright future as a director too (I am sure you have seen most of his works as a screenwriter).

      I didn’t write anything about it since I’ve watched it before starting the blog but one day will. Anyway, its so largely covered on the web that my contribution is barely important…
      https://www.moviemaker.com/archives/inside-mm-directing/intelligent-artifice-alex-garlands-smart-stylish-ex-machina/

      One of my fav moments of that movie is when they discuss Pollock and the possibility to create something unconsciously…remember?
      “The challenge is not to act automatically. It’s to find an action that is not automatic. From painting, to breathing, to talking.”

      How is the wineyard going? It has been a very tough year in Italy for the vines… Which grapes do you have? I live right near huge wineyards too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Jackson Pollock scene is brilliant beyond words. I swear I almost quoted that on this thread before you did! It sends chills down my spine, man.

        And the line before, “He never would have made a single mark.” That line speaks to me. In every aspect of my life I’m usually so afraid to make a mistake, that instead i do nothing. I identify with Caleb in a lot of ways.

        We grow Chambourcin! My dad says it’s supposed to be a hardy grape, with a high yield. And it’s common to our region, The American Midwest. We live on the Ohio River in Cincinnati. We also have a batch of Vidal Blanc, so we can say we’re growing Red and White. My dad doesn’t think the Vidal is going to turn out as well – he plans to mix it with another grape that’s hell import when it comes time for harvest next fall.

        My dad really did his homework. He visited vineyards in New York and Michigan before planting. He’s of Italian heritage, so that’s definitely where he gets his passion for wine!

        What kind of wines are near you? What is the cause of the bad season there?

        Like

      • Wow! This is very interesting. I have never tried these grapes as they are not so common in Europe. I suppose Vidal is very cold resistant. Do you make wine for yourself or do you sell it as well?

        I must admit I’ve only tried some Californian reds as its extremely difficult to find American wine here…

        Well, this region, Alto Adige, is one of the best white wine regions in Europe. Some of them are of local origin, like Gewurztraminer (very aromatic dry wine), some were imported from France like Pinot Blanc (Noir too), Sauvignon Blanc and some were indigenous Austrian varieties like Sylvaner, Grüner Veltliner, Müller Thurgau and Kerner (because this part of Italy was actually Austrian till early 20th century). All of them are spectacular if well done. And since the 90s this region really boomed! I’ve read some article on Decanter especially praising Pinot Blanc. I particularly adore Sylvaner which seems to finally find its identity, its equally balanced between herbal, fruity and not overly aromatic, and Pinot Blanc too. Kerner and Grüner Veltliner are very unusual grapes too, semi-aromatic.

        Today I went to collect the grapes in the wineyard. Well, there was frost in March, then unusually high temperature in late March so the grapes started to grow too soon, then in May frost again. Then in the summer during some weekends causing mold it rained continiously but the little rain otherwise. Finally, 2 weeks ago there was hail as strong that it even damaged the cars.

        In Tuscany, where I lived before, the things are totally different though… They hsve Sangiovese as their main grape but make about 7-8 different wines out of it (Chianti and Brunello are most famous but others are incredible too, just not so marketed). Then there is the area of Supertuscan wines that are too expensive… one wineyard I’ve been many times before told me that they had no rain this summer so the grapes get ripe earlier than usually.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Vidal is indeed cold resistant. It’s mostly grown North of us, in Canada, and New York. My dad got the idea to plant Vidal after he and my mom visited the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. He brought back a damn good bottle of it for me to try. I wish I could remember the name.

        That’s too bad about the weather this year over there. Here we have been lucky since planting in Spring 2016. This last Winter was very mild.

        We are new to this business. My dad knows a lot more than I do about wine. We have not made wine yet. And we only planted 1 acre. So we will likely gift most of the wine to friends and family, etc, at least the first year. If it turns out to be good, we might expand and apply for a license to sell in years to come.

        My dad already received a patent for the name, “Secunda Volta.” His first choice was, “Secunda Vida,” which was already taken. He is retired so this is his second career, second life.

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  3. This sounds great. I met many wineyard owners here in Italy who has barely few acres but managed to fulfill their dream and make great wine. Well, the grapes need some time to grow anyway so take your time… 🙂 From what I know, the Muller Thurgau (especially) and Sylvaner grapes are also very suitable for that kinds of climate. They were 2 most planted grapes in Germany during the 60-s, 70-s and 80-s because they are frost resistant and easy to cultivate.

    But why in Spanish and not Italian of your dad was of Italian descent? 🙂

    Like

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