Toby Stephens (Severance)
Caity Lotz (Legends of Tomorrow)
Denis Lawson (Star Wars)
Sam Hazeldine (The Huntsman)
Pooneh Hajimohammadi (Words and Gods)
John-Paul Macleod (Calander Girls)
Siwan Morris (Dark Signal)
In the not-too-distant-future, Britain is embroiled in a cold war with China. Scientist Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) is in charge of giving cybernetic implants to brain-damaged soldiers; while they seem to become mute soon after, they regain all their physical and mental faculties. He hopes that he can use this technology on his daughter, who suffers from a debilitating neurological disorder.
Then he meets Ava (Caity Lotz), a brilliant young scientist who has created an A.I. which is almost human. With her help, Vincent begins work on a sentient android by scanning her brain into a quantum computer… and after she’s unexpectedly murdered, Vincent uses her likeness and brain scan for The Machine (also played by Caity Lotz), a gynoid who is almost indistinguishable from a human.
In fact, she’s a little TOO human — she feels emotions like fear, love and remorse, and has a sense of morality that Vincent encourages. She also is capable of communicating with the cyborgs. Since the sleazy government/corporate boss Thomson (Denis Lawson) wants a mindless killing machine, he’s not too pleased by this. So he demands that Vincent lobotomize away Machine’s humanity.
The plot of “The Machine” is one we’ve seen before — someone builds a robot who turns out to be more human than expected — but Caradog W. James does an excellent job without being too preachy. It certainly helps that he includes some very realistic aspects to the story, such as conflicts with China and medical advances that are actually plausible (such as prosthetic limbs connected to the nervous system).
And James uses that bedrock to build a very simple yet emotionally complicated story, which slinks along in moody, tense scenes that click together by the end. The movie is rather slow at times, focusing mostly on Vincent discovering how human Machine is while Thomson tries to corrupt her. After so many quiet scenes, the gruesome and chaotic climax comes as a bit of a shock.
The movie was made for less than a million pounds, and at times it shows — almost the entire story takes place in a military base, with some generic hallways and a big leaky airline hangar. However, the special effects are beautifully done, and James cloaks the bleak sets in shadows and bright lights, puddles of glimmering water and red, foggy alert lights. This is also a movie that heavily relies on its actors, and both Stephens and Lotz are absolutely sublime here. Stephens plays Vincent as a prickly, worn-out man whose only enthusiasm seems to be for saving his daughter, until he encounters the pure humanity of Machine. Lotz is also quite excellent — she plays Machine with a wide-eyed, childlike wonder at the world, which she maintains even after coming face-to-face with its horrors.
There’s also a good supporting role for Pooneh Hajimohammadi, who gives an effectively silent performance as the leader of the cyborgs. And Lawson also deserves some praise for being a very plausibly despicable villain — like the real-life military, he doesn’t care about wounded veterans or innocent people. He just wants obedient super-soldiers and new ways to kill. It’s all too realistic. While the concept is not new, “The Machine” is a slow, powerful little sci-fi movie that sets itself in a chillingly plausible future world. If nothing else, watch it for Stephens and Lotz’s excellent performances.