The Machine, is a terrifying vision of a world perhaps not that far in the future. Directed and written by Caradog W James and starring Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz and Denis Llawson, this British film is both mesmerising and disturbing.
Vincent (Stephens) is a government scientist working on various forms of artificial intelligence, in order to create the ultimate robot fighter for use in warfare at home and abroad. However it’s only when his new assistant Eva (Lotz) begins to question the running of the research programme and the role of their boss Thomson (Lawson), that events take an unexpected and devastating turn.
The Machine is not the depiction of a pristine futuristic existence we have come to expect from films like 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968). Here instead life is dirty, grimy and vicious. A world of corrupt, self serving officials as well as scientists who believe in good, albeit in their own twisted fashion.
Though the film’s premise is, on one level, reasonably simple, focusing as it does on the relationship between Vincent and his humanoid creation, nothing is as it would initially appear. Here the actions and objectives of the government manufactured robots are as volatile and unpredictable as those of the scientists and officials who create them, resulting in scenarios which are as shocking as they’re unexpected.
This is also a film splattered with images of bizarre beauty – as in the initial birth of the new robot which the government is working on. Neither is it a film for the squeamish. The Machine is awash with blood, though not the sanitised type which we’ve come to expect from much modern sci-fi. Here it runs in deep red torrents which seep from wounds inflicted when the viewer least expects it, as in an initial shock sequence which takes place early in the proceedings.
Though other characters, such as Denis Lawson’s corrupt Thomson, are wonderfully realised, the film’s real magic comes from the bonding between Vincent and Eva. Stephens and Lotz infuse their characters with a toughness leavened by vulnerability which lends them believability in an often bizarre and cruel new future.
It has always taken independent cinema, outside the constraints of the big American studios, to take chances with film. Which is what happens here. Though the ending gives hope, this is not done in a sanitised Hollywood fashion. The future as seen in The Machine may appear harsh, but it might also prove closer to reality than we realise.