Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

"The surface detail may be uncanny, but there’s a truly different film under the skin here."

Following hot on the heels of Ex Machina, Uncanny is a low budget sci-fi flick that focuses on the possibilities presented by AI. Luckily for audiences, it follows a different plot trajectory and has enough changes in its core components to allow it to stand on its own. It’s also worth pointing out that despite some relatively high praise, Ex Machina had a few issues with regards to predictability, and Uncanny doesn’t go out of its way to find untrodden ground either.

With that said, different folk will get different mileage out of this film, which hinges on a few fairly intelligent ideas, and telegraphs and follows through with its narrative beats with relative success. As a low budget British flick, it doesn’t have the luxury of a set as over the top as Ex Machina’s near-future-playboy-pad-cum-fortress-laboratory, but it does still set itself entire around one location. That isn’t where the comparisons end either, as the main characters are the stilted super geek David (Mark Webber), his formidably realistic android Adam (David Clayton Rogers), and Joy (Lucy Griffiths), the journalist with a background in robotics who’s sent to interview them. It's set over the course of a few days, with things getting progressively weirder as time goes on… The similarities are certainly uncanny.

Copy picture

Shahin Chandrasoma hasn’t just fiddled with an existing idea. The changes here are deliberate. The gender swap is important, and it shouldn’t be understated. Adam is not Ava (though the biblical etymology is clear) and he is still cautious about the world, learning to feel and process emotions, as well as suffering some emotional browbeating from the callously intelligent David. There’s also no bromantic posturing between two male leads, instead there’s the re-ignition of a woman’s passion for science, and a slow nurturing of affection with an inexperienced, troubled genius. David has after all, spent all of his life in isolation, swept straight from education by the enigmatic Castle (a bit part by Rainn Wilson) and allowed free reign on the development of his android and AI tech.

Even with a much smaller budget, there are plenty of convincing effects here, with prosthetic limbs, eyes and organs all rendered with a care for detail. The plot is also smarter in its approach to the Turing Test too, as David understands very well that the magic of illusion is far more important to humans than the practicality of AI. The pair work together to design artificial stomachs for the digestion of food, for no reason other than to simulate the human machine. The abstraction that these synthetic limbs and organs are shot with allows them to feel possible, and they gel with the look and feel of the film incredibly, which is something that Matthew Leutwyler should be applauded for on such a tight budget.

Eventually though, things take a perverse turn as an uneasy love triangle begins to develop. Adam begins to feel patronised and insulted by Joy and David’s attitudes towards him, and the plot starts to coil itself towards a fraught finale that does something fairly interesting with its premise. Expository dialogue in the first half may undo a lot of its work, and some of the acting could betray the plot a little for more eagle eyed viewers, but that doesn’t really matter as it all feeds back into the themes of the film. It may not have the gloss and glamour of Ex Machina, but it sheds a lot of the problems around gender and tropes around AI storylines that haunt Garland’s cult hit. The surface detail may be uncanny, but there’s a truly different film under the skin here.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2015
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Trouble brews when a young journalist starts to interact with a humanoid robot.

Director: Matthew Leutwyler

Writer: Shahin Chandrasoma

Starring: Mark Webber, Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers, Rainn Wilson

Year: 2015

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2015

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