Friday, 14 March 2014

"The Machine" - UK DVD/BD review

Anchor Bay will be releasing Caradog James’s dark sci-fi thriller “The Machine” to DVD and BD here in the UK this month and they very kindly sent me a review disc to take a look at. I didn’t really know too much about the film prior to watching, but as the film began was actually pleasantly surprised.

Set in the not too distant future, at a military research facility. Scientist Vincent McCarthy (played by former Bond villain Toby Stephens), is trying to perfect an artificial intelligence program, that will give brain damaged soldiers a second chance at life.

Soldiers suffering from severe brain trauma are given chip implants, which keeps them alive, but leaves them unable to think, or feel any emotions. But Vincent hopes his research will help them to become Human again. Though his real interest, is that he's hoping he'll also be able to use the software to help his terminally ill daughter.

American scientist Ava (Caity Lotz - "The Pact") is brought in to help, as they think her software might hold the key. But when she realises that something sinister is going on at the facility, she is killed under very suspicious circumstances. Leaving Vincent to try and carry on her work.

Building a prototype robot programmed with Ava's software, which looks uncannily like her, it quickly begins to adapt and learn, as well as taking on human characteristics. But the scientist in charge, Thomson (Dennis Lawson, who "Star Wars" fans will recognise from his role of Wedge Antilles in the original trilogy) isn't interested in a conscientious robot, as he wants an automated killing machine that will obey his commands. So he proceeds to conduct his own tests, whilst Vincent is out of the facility.

But Thomson isn't the only one who's got his own agenda going, and some of the implanted soldiers may not be quite as unfeeling or as unthinking as we were lead to believe...

A difficult sort of film to categorise, I'd say it's more of a sci-fi thriller. It's certainly not a horror movie or an action film as such. In many ways it came across like a feature length
BBC drama, with most of the film focussing on Vincent's research work and the machine, as it slowly becomes self aware. Things do kick up a gear near the end when Thomson tries to reprogram the machine and the shit hits the fan as the implanted soldiers mount a take over, but for the most part the film is what I would call a "slow burner".

Usually I go for films that are fairly fast paced or action packed. In this case I think it was the atmosphere that hooked me. There was this brooding malevolence that seemed to permeate the entire film, as you know something sinister is going on in the background, either with the how Thomson is treating the wounded veterans that Vincent and the others are supposedly trying to "help" or with the implanted soldiers, who exchange strange glances with each other and talk in incomprehensible binary talk, and you just know that something is going to kick off at some point, but you don't know what until it finally happens.

Obviously, the subjects of how much of a person can you replace with machinery before they actually become one and at what point does artificial intelligence become "alive" are subjects that have been dealt with many times before in fiction, but I found this story particularly compelling.

It's well shot, making good use of visuals and the film's dark atmosphere is emphasised by composer Tom Raybould's haunting electronic score, which reminded me of "Blade Runner", "Hardware" and some of those other downbeat films, where the future really isn't looking so bright.

Of course, whether you'll like this depends on your love of sci-fi dramas. If you're looking for another "Terminator", or "Robocop", you won't get it here. However, if you're looking for an interesting sci-fi tale, this one comes highly recommended and is already looking at scoring very highly on my list of top ten films of 2014.

The review disc I was sent did not contain any extras, however I have been reliably informed that the release copies will contain some special features. So if and when I find out what is included I will amend the review accordingly.
"The Machine" is released to UK DVD and BD March 31, from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Buy the UK DVD from
Buy the UK BD from

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