In a future where the West is on the verge of war with China, a military scientist (Toby Stephens) attempts to use cybernetic technology to repair the bodies and minds of wounded soldiers. Desperate to perfect his research, he brings in an American artificial intelligence expert (Caity Lotz) to provide some answers. But even bigger questions arise when they find themselves at the centre of a sinister plot to create a new breed of warrior designed to kill, not think. Writer-director Caradog W James makes a small budget go a long way in an ambitious sci-fi thriller that packs an existential punch.
Caradog W James
The Machine pivots on a plot development that occurs at the end of the first act. To reveal it explicitly would ruin a potential surprise; to ignore it would cut any discussion of the film rather short.
Suffice to say that the change it brings about in Caity Lotz's character reveals a performer whose talents has been criminally untapped. Until now.
Looking a lot like Aussie star Melissa George and building a similar CV in the likes of B-horror The Pact and TV action spree Arrow (via a small part in Mad Men), Lotz here nails the chance to take an initially ho-hum role in a surprising physical and dramatic direction.
She plays Ava, an American computer genius brought into a hidden British military installation to help moody scientist Vincent (Toby Stephens) repair the mental damage done to returning soldiers with ground-breaking artificial intelligence techniques.
With a new cold war brewing against China, Ava understands the urgency of the situation. But she senses something more.
For Vincent, it's all about his comatose daughter. Time is also critical for his shady boss (Denis Lawson), who wants to create an army of conscience-free cyborgs who shoot first and ask questions... never.
Then comes the turning point. By which time writer-director Caradog W James has set his Frankensteinian stall out in impressively cine-literate style.
The sci-fi references come from far and wide, from Fritz Lang's Metropolis to the gung-ho Universal Soldier franchise, via Blade Runner, The Matrix, The Terminator, RoboCop and Spielberg's A.I. In tone and atmosphere, however, its closest cousin would be the little-seen 2009 oddity Splice.
Shrouded in tech-noir gloom, Vincent and Ava's story poses some big questions about love and artificial intelligence and how far they fit together. Or if they should. Can love be programmed? It makes you think.
The problem is that in trying to fulfil the movie's action remit, James' narrative hinges on some pretty unlikely security scenarios.
The apparently ruthless authorities could remove a serial nuisance from outside the gates at any time, but don't. And given its importance and lethality, nobody keeps too close an eye on the titular creation.
But it remains a B-movie of considerable ambition and substance. Blessed with A-grade effects and a performance to match from Lotz, it's not hard to see why James won the Welsh BAFTA for Best Film and a British Independent Film Award for 'best film on a limited budget'.
It just wouldn't have broken the bank to put a few more lights on.