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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Salem Watches a Movie: The Machine

Image courtesy IMDB
     The last time I reviewed a movie here, it didn't go so well. I had just watched World War Z, and was incredibly let down by a bloated, over-commercialized, uninspired waste of a good idea. I don't watch terribly many movies normally, and I think between then and now the only ones I've seen have been the Marvel films and Frozen. So I rolled the dice on an interesting premise and came out on top.

     The Machine a low-profile British film released in 2013, and can seen on most VOD services (Google Play, iTunes, etc) now. It has a few things going for it in my book, being a big fan of the theme of transhumanism. Cybernetic augmentation fascinates me. Cyberpunk is very much up my particular dimly-lit back alley. These themes are handled rather deftly, with a great deal of love and an almost palpable avoidance of the tired and all-too-common "dangers that science hath wrought" sentiment that plagues other works in the genre. This is definitely far more Deus Ex than The Terminator.

     And speaking of Terminators, the performance of the film's cybernetic protagonist, Caity Lotz, must be singled out here. We had a female Terminator way back when in Terminator 3, but Lotz's performance washes the bad taste of that entire film out of my mouth. Her character swings between naive and timid and cold efficiency from one scene to the next. Her facial expressions are nuanced and just inhuman enough that you buy into her as an artificial being inexperienced with emotion and awareness, and when the film's climax comes, you witness her earning her stripes as a bona-fide action star. And for everything she does for this film, the film pays her back. Her character is fleshed out with vulnerabilities, personality quirks, and - when the time comes - plenty of steel.

     Interestingly, this feels like a film that was made on a tight budget, but made efficiently. The sets are believable but not ambitious. The score evokes mid-90s John Carpenter-esque scifi films with unashamed synthesizer riffs that would be at home in such classics as Escape from New York and Terminator. The cast is chock full of slightly familiar faces from television (Hey it's Canary from Arrow! It's that guy from the Pirates show! It's the old government guy from Jekyll!) who mostly turn in excellent performances. A lot of smaller characters, like Suri the cyborg secretary and several patients in the facility don't *technically* have spoken lines, but the script finds a clever way around that, keeping them separate, but sympathetic.

     I feel it necessary to criticize just a few things. The pacing of the film is a little slow, making it seem longer than its 90 minute run-time. The male lead, Toby Stephens, seems to lack the ability to express a great deal of human emotion(at times, you'd think he was the titular Machine). Some lines stick out like a sore thumb, as if they should have been pruned in editing.

Bottom line: If you're aching for a good cyberpunk thriller or a transhumanist story that embraces the idea of mechanized evolution, you'll enjoy this.

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