This year has already brought one film that dealt with artificial intelligence and robotic constructs that can pass for human, Ex Machina. Quite honestly, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about that film as most everyone else in the universe was; just not my bag. So when I was tasked with watching Uncanny, and I found out what it was about, I wasn’t the happiest of campers. But as someone once said, “Hope springs eternal”, so I sat down on my comfy couch and pressed “play”. Best case scenario: I take a nice nap as the movie plays itself out. Worst case scenario: The film is (just as Ex Machina was), decent, but just not my thing.
Roboticist David Kressen (Mark Webber) is to be the subject of a feature article in a magazine called High Tech Quarterly. The woman set to write the article, Joy Andrews (Lucy Griffiths), gets a week to observe David in his high-tech workshop and slowly get to know him as she writes her article. No slouch herself – she’s developed a very successful video game – Joy is still taken aback at some of the items David is developing: things like synthetic skin, a robotic eye, and a human bone crafted out of Titanium. All of these items really set Joy aback with their possibilities, but once David introduces Joy to his assistant, Adam (David Clayton Rogers), all bets are off. That’s because Adam isn’t a human being; he’s the most perfect manifestation of a human being ever produced and his artificial intelligence is nearly perfect. David has been working in this building for the last seven years, perfecting his artificial construct, and he feels now is the time to debut Adam.
As Joy only has seven days to write her article, she immediately delves into David’s work and speaks with Adam. Joy leaves to go home every evening to work on her article but a connection is made between Joy and David, and that turns into a relationship rather quickly. Adam notices how close Joy and his creator have become, and he begins to foment feelings of jealousy and curiosity about sexual intercourse that are counter to his programming. Adam then proceeds to awkwardly act on these new feelings, much to David and Joy’s consternation. Eventually it all comes to a head, and David and joy find themselves in danger of some serious hurt from Adam.
And therein lies the rub in director Matthew Leutwyler‘s foray into sci-fi drama. Writer Shahin Chandrasoma has written an extremely dour but smart script that plays on human emotions a lot more than you might think. The whole film takes place in the work space David has lived in for the last seven years, which is not exactly bright and snappy. It’s dark with lots of rooms that lead to who knows where, but cinematographer Ross Richardson does a very good job at keeping everything visible -it never gets too dark anywhere in David’s digs. Leutwyler does a good job of making the whole film intimate, but there’s a forboding air to all of the shenanigans here. The intimate nature of the film makes the viewer comfortable at first, but once Adam makes his desires known, Uncanny becomes eerie and suspenseful – something that Ex Machina didn’t do, although in all fairness to that film, I’m not too sure if that’s the vibe the film makers wanted to develop, despite where that film’s final third goes to.
As David, Mark Webber does a very good job of portraying a man whose genius might be too much for him to live a normal life in the real world, so he finds both solace and the freedom to work in his well appointed apartment, all paid for by his benefactor, Mr. Castle (Rainn Wilson in a quick cameo). Lucy Griffiths is very attractive and she lends an air of inquisitiveness to the character of Joy that feels genuine. Her interactions with David begin in a forthright but amiable manner, and as the relationship gets a bit closer, it’s Joy that takes the lead. There’s a scene in which they are about to have intercourse, and Joy notices David’s trepidation over how to start. She then recalls that he came into this permanent lab straight out of high school, and that he’s never had a girlfriend before – he’s a virgin. It’s a touching and telling scene in which we see the beginning of David coming out of the shell he’s been metaphorically locked in for nearly half of his life. But Joy’s interactions with Adam are quite different. At first, there’s a genuine interest that Joy has in how Adam even functions, but as Adam tries to get closer, Joy begins to back away from him. His burgeoning interest in human sexuality is making Joy uneasy, and his terrible attempts to get Joy to show some physical interest in him are both sad and wrongheaded. Joy ends up very scared of Adam, and the idea that he might be sexually frustrated (despite the fact that that’s just not in his programming) is a really interesting idea – one that I wasn’t expecting. David Clayton Rogers downplays Adam at first; he keeps him busy and a bit uncommunicative. But as he grows accustomed to Joy being around, he slowly changes, and in one creepy scene he uses a wall-sized computer screen to find out everything he can about her, and then studies pornographic movies to find out about sex. He comes off as half curious 13-year-old boy and half sexually depraved pervert in one 3-minute scene, all without displaying any emotion whatsoever.
Uncanny does a great deal on an extremely low budget, and I daresay I found it to be more entertaining than Ex Machina. The special effects aren’t too flashy, but they’re believable, and that’s what’s important in movies like this one that lean on technology. It didn’t bore me in the least, which surprised the hell out of me, but I did have two big problems with it. The script ends with a double whammy, one being the big twist right at the end, which I saw coming a mile away. The other is a quick coda that appears a few seconds into the end credits that feels really cheap, and quite frankly unbelievably silly and stupid. Sadly, Both of them take away from what was a pretty good film up to that point.
I liked Uncanny; I really did. As I mentioned earlier in this review, this particular subgenre of sci-fi just isn’t my bag, so me liking it is a feather in its cap. But the ending and coda really killed a lot of what I liked about the script. Nevertheless, I was entertained and intrigued at the same time by it, and if you liked Ex Machina, then you’ll like Uncanny as well. It’s (for the most part) intelligent, and the small cast really does a great job of making the ideas proposed in the script feasible. Worth a watch.
Uncanny (3.5 / 5)
Available on DVD and Digital Video November 3, 2015.