Tag Archives: Automata

Prospect (2018)

Detail is king in Prospect, the debut feature from writing/directing duo Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl. There’s little to latch onto in the opening minutes that could be called “familiar” outside the general setup: two human characters, father and daughter, in a ship floating through space. But the young girl is writing in an alien language, her father is administering a strange drug, and the process they both engage with to launch their pod down to the surface of a nearby planet is about as complicated as the entire mission in First Man. There’s a device that the father holds in place and continuously winds like it’s a jack-in-the-box, though its purpose is never actually articulated.

World-building is the key to good science-fiction, whether that world is wholly foreign or just slightly askew from our own. The level of detail present in Prospect has garnered comparisons to Moon and even to Star Wars, both of which are high praise indeed. It’s evident from the very start of Prospect, though, that we’re diving even deeper into unfamiliar territory, making the film of stronger kin (visually, at least) with indie sci-fi like Automata, Young Ones, Monsters or District 9.

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It Follows (2015)

It’s cool that It Follows is getting the hype it’s getting. A lot of it is overboard, of course, as tends to happen sometimes when one good review snowballs until such claims as “It Follows is the best American horror film in decades” become commonplace. I’m all for lionizing good indie flicks, but it’s also important to let the thing stand alone for a while too, right? Anyway, that said, yes: It Follows is damn fine cinema. Technically a 2014 release, the film is just now gaining traction through an extended cinematic run.

Writer/Director David Robert Mitchell has a premise that nearly defies explanation because of its simplicity: there is this thing, slow-moving but not dumb, and if it’s “passed” to you then it will follow you. It can look like anyone, even someone you know. If it catches you it will kill you. Respite only comes from passing it along to someone else, and even then you’re still only next in line. That’s simultaneously an awesome premise — elementally terrifying in how simple it is — and yet one that’s been done a thousand times before. “Slow-moving thing inexplicably stalks people” is a staple of the horror genre, from Halloween (which we’ll discuss in a moment) to Alien (which we’ll discuss in another moment). Most “horror” flicks nowadays are really just slasher flicks with that premise mixed in. Thankfully, though, even though the premise of It Follows has been done before, it’s never been done quite like this.

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Young Ones (2014)

These days future-set postapocalyptic fables are so common that anything such a movie can do to make the idea fresh and original is more than welcome. Cormac McCarthy’s popular The Road and John Hillcoat’s ensuing adaptation with Viggo Mortensen helped to cement the profitability of the genre after a distinct lag since the Mad Max/Blade Runner heyday, and now dystopias seem to be coming through the woodwork. The fact that both Mad Max and Blade Runner will be getting new treatments soon should attest to that desire to recapture the glory days of the genre.

One of the latest entries is Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones, set in a world where water has finally become a scarce and precious commodity. The film is divided into sections focusing on different characters, starting with Michael Shannon’s Ernest Holm, continuing with Nicholas Hoult’s rogueish Flem, and ending with Kodi Smit-McPhee’s son-of-Ernest Jerome Holm. They’re all changed irrevocably by the drought, guarding what little they have with violence and ruthlessness, and most shades of innocence are gone by the time Young Ones takes place. As in most dystopias, it’s the state of things that causes this darker and more animalistic aspect of humanity to come to the surface.

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Automata (2014)

Just by virtue of being a smaller, lesser-known project with a scrappy underdog mentality, Automata has an instant advantage over similar sci-fi dystopias of recent memory like Elysium, the Dredd remake, Oblivion and the godawful In Time. The comparison to Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium and his earlier District 9 is especially unavoidable, as the world-building employed here is every bit as important and every bit as impressive. This is a distinct Earth that’s very unlike our own, but it doesn’t take a second to get used to.

The credits sequence says it all, really: our ecosystem has crumbled and our atmosphere has become unbearable, and so the future humankind invents a whole host of technological solutions: mechanical “clouds” that produce fake rain and shield our planet, massive walls that keep the desert from encroaching upon our cities, and most importantly a vast array of “automata” – robot slaves who weld our machines, cook our food, wash our dishes and wipe our asses when we get old. The credits sequence already pulls a 180 on us, though, by depicting this future as the past. By the time the events of Automata take place, humankind is jaded to the wonders of these technological advances, and the automata themselves seem to have become a bit jaded too.

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