Low budget science fiction films are able to play with bigger themes than their larger budget counterparts. They don’t have to worry about appealing to a mass audience in order to recoup their cost, meaning that they can play a little fast and loose with convention and expectation. The low budget 2013 Welsh film, The Machine manages to do that delivering a thoughtful, well crafted little sci-fier – even if the last act does final conform to action-filled shoot-em-up.
Caradog W.James’ film has Toby Stephens as a Frankenstein-like doctor striving to create artificial intelligence. He’s painfully close when his assistant Ava (Caity Lotz) is killed. He creates the titular machine in her form and carries on with his work. Unbeknownst to him, his evil boss (Dennis Lawson) wants to use Ava as the ultimate killing machine.
In building The Machine, James has ‘borrowed’ liberally from a lot of great science fiction movies. He has liberally taken pieces of Metropolis, Blade Runner, The Terminator and even Paul W.S. Anderson’s Soldier to create a film which has its own unique appeal. I’m particularly impressed by Tom Raybould’s Vangelis inspired synth score. Admittedly, it verges very close to Blade Runner territory but crying about that would be like tears in the rain.
When watching The Machine, you’ll ponder why Toby Stephens isn’t a bigger star. He has the charisma and the acting chops to carry the movie – maybe he’s been type cast over paying the villain in Die Another Day, but his work definitely needs to be seen more. Caity Lotz is also good as Ava, she manages her twin roles well, hitting the the right notes to make Ava seem both fragile and lethal. Lawson isn’t quite as successful, coming across like a pantomime villain or a grumpy school principal.
The Machine plays with the concepts of man versus technology and and using artificial intelligence in war and medicine. Some of these concepts aren’t fully realised but I presume that has more to do with James’ limited time and resources than a lack or care or interest.
The Machine is a well-crafted science fiction movie that has an old-fashioned quality to its lived-in world. It features strong performances and some stand-out moments. It may be low budget, but it’s far from low grade.