Automata (2014): Evolution of a Different Sort

Film poster for Automata
Directed and co-written by Gabe Ibáñez and starring Antonio Banderas, the 2014 film Automata takes the ideology behind I Robot and makes it darker; the result of a different sort of evolution. Set in a Dystopian future where mankind has shrunk to just a few million survivors on an inhospitable Earth, the story follows one man’s investigation of an “impossible” crime. With shades of Blade Runner, the film has a protagonist that is not a cop but an insurance investigator, criminals that are not cyborgs but robots who have gone against their protocols and evolved.

Jacq Vaucan (Banderos) is a married man whose wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is heavily pregnant and an investigator that is fed up with his job and wants to be moved. His work consists of proving that the robots manufactured by ROC cannot be altered or perform against their protocols.

There are two protocols that each robot must adhere to. The first does not allow it to harm any living thing and the second does not allow it to alter or repair itself. A cop named Sean Wallace (Dylan McDermott) shoots and destroys a robot that he claims was repairing itself. The policeman, who was high on drugs at the time of the shooting, swears that he did not imagine the incident; that the machine altered itself right in front of him.

Robert Bold (Robert Forster) tells Vaucan that this is impossible and the investigator starts looking for someone who disabled the second protocol; a clocksmith. Jacq finds one, a Dr. DuPre (Melanie Griffith) but it turns out that she is not modifying the robots and she learns that it has happened “naturally.”

This film is very dark and brooding in its delivery and with its depiction of a future-earth burnt and dried out by solar flares. Automata does a brilliant job showing the fickle nature of mankind. In the backstory, humanity cheer the new “pilgrim” robots that were made to help “push back the desert.” When the machines fail, the same people who cheered them on turn and their praise becomes hate and disgust.

Similar to I Robot, the machines are part of everyday life although in the that film, the cities are clean and full of successful, happy people. In Automata , like Blade Runner, the towns are dirty, full of acid rain, the unemployed, worn-out robots and is segregated from the ghetto, which is “out of bounds” to the city dwellers.

While the message is bleak, for mankind at least, the robots seem to be the future. Banderas acts his little cotton socks off in the film and his performance alone is worth the “price of admission” as they say. Griffith has a small role and while she still has the chops to impress, it is her character’s outcome that is remembered best. Shocking and sudden, it sticks in the mind and fits this future of grim reality.

Kudos to two favorite Brit actors who have worked together before, although they do not share any real screen time here, Tim McInnerny and Andy Nyman. The actors appeared in the 2006 horror film Severance and it was a delight to see them in this film. McInnerny as the long dust coat-wearing killer for ROC and Nyman as the partner of Wallace, the drug addict cop. Both actors can play “Yanks” quite convincingly.

Oh, and Keep an ear out for Javier Bardem as the “blue” robot.

Automata is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is a real 5 out of 5 stars film. This one, as they say, is a keeper and should become a cult favorite if it has not done so already. Watch this one you will be glad you did.

Creep (2004): The London Underground Just Got Worse

Written and directed by Christopher Smith this was Smith’s first full length  feature film. He went on to make Severance (2006), the vastly superior Triangle (2009) and Black Death (2010) and he is currently directing a TV mini-series Labyrinth (2012). Starring Franka Potente –  Run Lola Run ,  The Bourne Identity . Given that the premise of the film, getting locked in the London Underground after hours, is not actually possible; it’s a good film nonetheless.

The film opened to a pretty lukewarm reception. The reviews were mostly mixed with  a tendency for most of them to be negative. Considering that the film actually accomplishes what it set out to do, scare the crap out of the audience, I feel that the poor reception was unwarranted. Franka Potente really sells the film. Her portrayal as the protagonist of the film is just what you would expect from this accomplished actress. I don’t know how Smith managed to get her for his film, but hat’s off to him for casting her.

The Readers Digest version of the plot is as follows: Girl sets out to meet George Clooney. She gets a bit wasted at the party she’s attending and winds up falling asleep on the Underground while on her way to meet George. A lecherous workmate tries to rape her. He is gorily dispatched by some unseen person. Girl spends most of the film trying to get out of the Underground, getting captured by the maniac killer and then trying to  not get killed by same. She escapes with the help of an underground maintenance worker. He is then killed while trying to defend the girl. She is the last [wo]man standing and defeats the killer. The subway opens up for the morning trade and she gets a hand out from a passer by who thinks she is a beggar.

I have of course left out the “backstory” of the maniac killer who haunts the underground. All said, it is a pretty good one. His name is Craig and he was kept in the underground in some sort of medical facility. He is Mentally Challenged. Somehow, even though the facility has closed, he has made his way back to the familiar surroundings. He now kills stragglers and other unfortunates in bizarre re-enactments of surgical procedures that he remembers from his past.

This is more than just your typical slasher film. Okay, you do have your villain or “boogey-man” who is damn near impossible to dispatch, but…It has a bit more going for it. Apart from the sexual predator workmate that attacks the girl (Kate) all the other character have been written well enough that we actually like them. As a consequence we actually care when they die. Most slasher films feature vapid miss-behaving teenagers who are so two dimensional they might as well be cardboard cut-outs. These teens also suffer lethal fates because they “break” the morality clause of their “Christian Contract,” you know, breaking certain basic Christian rules like:  pre-marital sex, smoking, drinking, drug taking, etc. Where a few of Craig’s victims are young, they are also not breaking the known rules. Although the two homeless people that Kate meets in the underground could fit that mould, but hey, they’re homeless, not some mindless vapid teen partying, drinking and trying to get laid.

The film does require you to suspend your disbelief, but if you cannot do that, then why are you watching a horror film?