Toronto After Dark: The Machine (2013) – Caradog W. James

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Sci-Fi night at Toronto After Dark, graciously hosted at Scotiabank Theatre this year, continued with a late night screening of the UK science fiction flick, The Machine, starring Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz, and Denis Lawson.

Using Blade Runner, Terminator and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica as its launching point, a number of the festival organizers were chatting this one up as their favorite film, the hidden gem in fact, of the festival.

Stephens plays Vincent, a scientist working on a quantum computer as the next step in the creation of a living machine. He has developed implants and prosthetics to help wounded veterans to improve their quality of life, and despite working for the Ministry of Defense, is working hard to try to find a cure for his daughter.

Assisting him is Caity Lotz (who first came to our attention in The Pact), plays Ava who has solved some of the issues that have eluded Vincent. As the Cold War with China heats up however, Ava falls victim to an attack that may have been designed by Lawson’s Thomson who is overseeing the entire project, and is more interested in the military applications Vincent’s work can provide.

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Using Ava as a template, Vincent creates The Machine, and thus begins an exploration on what it means to be human, the idea that our technology is outstripping our ability to control it, and the possibility that a manufactured living machine may in fact be our next evolutionary step.

Despite the highbrow themes behind it, the film works as entertainment as well, and Lotz is in fine fighting form as the Machine is trained for combat, and demonstrates her frightening and deadly skills as an Angel of Death.

It’s interesting that as the film progresses, the human characters, but for Vincent, the evolutionary link between both species, become colder characters, while the Machines become warmer and more human.

The music of the film has overtones of Carpenter and Vangelis, keeping us in mind of the films that it is paying homage too, just as the machines glowing eyes are a direct nod to The Terminator.

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It’s a smart film, written and directed by James in a time not so far from our own, you can see Blade Runner like cityscapes in the background, as we gravel to and from the remote MoD base that Vincent works in, where a lone woman, Mrs. Dawson (Helen Griffin), keeps a vigil, hoping to learn what has happened to her son, a soldier whose body was never returned to her.

There are a number of standout moments for me, Ava says, while Vincent is mapping her brain as a template that dancing makes her happy, and later, we see the Machine glowing from within as she moves and twirls across the floor, expressing her inner joy.

The story wraps everything up nicely by film’s end, all the story threads are tended to, but one feels that we are moving to something heavier than a Cold War with China. The machines are out there now… Smarter, stronger, superior,and what happens when they start manufacturing their own offspring?

A thought provoking sci-fi flick in the best tradition, and definitely worth a look should you have the opportunity.

Tomorrow is Gory Night, what are you watching After Dark?

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