Review by Sean Boelman
Automation, co-written and directed by Garo Setian, is a new sci-fi film that also attempts to tie in multiple other genres. Although it is admittedly all-over-the-place, that is a majority of the movie’s charm, as this seems destined to become a cult classic on the so-bad-it’s-hilarious circuit.
The film follows a robot working at a shipping company who starts to kill off his human co-workers after learning that he will be deactivated in favor of a newer model. The satire in this premise is evident (the title should be a dead giveaway about the movie’s main theme), but Setian and the other writers are able to do enough with the script to keep it intriguing.
As is obvious, the film is a commentary on modern corporate practices, and much of what Setian et al. have to say represents common concerns of working-class Americans today. Still, because of how heavy-handed the movie is (it’s literally a horror movie about worker automation gone wrong), this message may not connect with everyone as expected.
If the film does nail one thing, it is the moral ambiguity of the robot character. While he is not truly the protagonist, he is undeniably the most compelling and well-developed character in the movie. His internal struggle serves as the only real emotional arc, and ultimately, he experiences the most change. It’s a shame that the filmmakers felt the need to impose a human protagonist.
Perhaps the most off-putting thing about the film is that it is tonally inconsistent. Although the movie is clearly sci-fi, there are multiple other genres into which this film could also fall. There are some comedic moments (though whether or not these were purposeful could be up for debate), some suspenseful horror-driven moments, and some scenes in which it seems like the movie is going to turn into a romance.
Across the board, the acting in the film is very weak, but this ties into the so-bad-it’s-funny feeling that the movie encapsulates. Granted, not all of the blame can be placed on the cast — the script has a large part in the film’s overwhelming cheesiness — but the lack of charm and the overly flat delivery is entirely their own responsibility.
On a technical level, the movie is also very lackluster, but not much more could be expected from a B-movie such as this. The practical effects for the film are outright laughable, and the cinematography is frequently bad. The movie overuses the gimmick of simulated screens (to mimic the robot’s perspective), and they are entirely unconvincing.
Automation has some very entertaining moments in a ridiculous way, but it is by no means a good film. Even though there are some interesting ideas, the filmmakers try to juggle too many tones and the result is a comedic mess.
Automation is now available on VOD.