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Review: The Machine

(March 10, 2014)

Review: The Machine
In cinemas from 21 March 2014

The Machine

Toby Stephens


Set in a dystopian Britain sometime in the future, The Machine sees troubled scientist Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens, right) developing 'intelligent machines' for shadowy agent Thomson (Denis Lawson). Vincent enlists the help of promising new programmer Ava (Caity Lotz) in an attempt to produce fully self-aware machines, able to perform complex personal interactions. After Ava ‘dies’, she becomes his latest machine, and Vincent begins to suspect the transfer of consciousness and memory. Conflict with his superiors ensues, which may threaten his life and that of his daughter, who suffers from Rett syndrome.

On one hand, The Machine inhabits some very familiar territory. On the other, it’s a fresh enough take on the genre to merit a big screen or Saturday night DVD viewing. Viewers more inclined towards the TV, or DVD Box set, may find its style and conflict familiar from Battlestar Galactica. But the low-fi feel of promising Welsh screenwriter and director Caradog James’ very British dystopia tale, definitely mixes well with the bigger themes and thematic lore of bigger hits, such as Blade Runner, The Terminator and I, Robot. A superb opening credits sequence creates a sense of foreboding, giving you the feeling that everything cannot end well, in this not-too-distant future.


The Machine - PoolCaity Lotz as The Machine

The soundtrack harks back to Ridley Scott's films of the 1980s, lending the film an almost-retro authenticity, and creating a chillingly dark tone to The Machine’s underground world. The minimalism of the score is matched by a brave script, which at no point attempts to spoon-feed meaning or emotion.

Caity Lotz as The Machine

For a modern sci-fi film, its computer generated imagery (CGI) effects are refreshingly unobtrusive, and the film has a distinct lack of effects for effects’ sake. But, while some of the more restrained elements of the storytelling lend a serious credibility and claustrophobic tension to the experience, it is perhaps, a shame that it lacks that sense of time, place and real identity that made the aforementioned US movies so memorable in their content. When the world outside The Machine is briefly shown, it looks absolutely superb, broadening the film’s canvass enough to raise questions that the film perhaps doesn’t want to answer. It would be nice to see some of the landscape and social culture of this future Britain and some sense of what should be fought for, or left to die. In spite of the blatant contradiction, maybe The Machine could do with just a little more heart to go with its pretty head.

The Machine

James received support from the Welsh Government and Film Agency Wales. Just a cursory look at the end credits will show you the creative input, from talent who show that genre films, such as this, can be made in Wales. However, despite having the main bulk of the crew based in one of Europe’s smaller countries, within the film itself, place is hardly mentioned and James seems to have been keen to give the film a more international appeal and market. The Machine’s narrative wastes little time focusing on story-setting, which leaves you wondering whether this was something intentional from the filmmaker.


Caity Lotz as The Machine

The Machine The Machine

Caradog James


All in all, Caradog James (right) has done a great job of creating tension and suspense. The circumstances leading to the creation of our title character creates an affinity with ‘her’, and a dislike of the bad guys, whom you may also wish were explored a little further in the script. In terms of what the director has created with his material, the film proves satisfying ... but somehow a little scary too, and the ending will have you asking questions and wanting a whole lot more. When it comes to action and tension, the director marks himself down as one to watch. Not afraid to embrace convention, the film really cuts loose at the finale. James is not afraid to show us some blood and pain, and it’s a very welcome step - we instantly feel more at home and in safe hands ... and the sequel looks even more interesting!

Nick Stradling, March 2014


The Machine  2013, 90 minutes (approx)
Producer:  John Giwa-Amu
Director:  Caradog James
Screenplay:  Caradog James
Original Score:  Mark Thomas, performed by The Prague Philmarmonic Orchestra

 Toby Stephens
 Caity Lotz
 Denis Lawson

Supporting cast:

 Sam Hazeldine
 Pooneh Hajimohammadi
 John Paul Macleod
 Helen Griffin
 Siwan Morris
 Nicola Reynolds
 Jade Croot
 Jonathan Christian Byrne
 Alan Low
 Sule Rimi
 Joshua Higgott
 Giles Thomas
 Cornelius Garrett
 Sam Ellis
 Richard Shackley
 Daniel Llewelyn-Williams
 Dafydd Emyr
 Ben McGregor
 Clark Fisher
 Gareth Jones

BIFA 2013: The Machine - Winner of the Raindance Award - Caity Lotz Nominated for Best Newcomer
Winner of Best UK Film: Raindance Film Festival 2013
Winner 3 BAFTAs Cymru 2013, including Best Film

If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy this, by Nick Stradling:
     Interview with
Caradog James; June 2014

Review: Y Syrcas (The Circus); December 2013
The Braveheart effect and the lost stories of Wales; December 2013

Nick Stradling blogs on the "idea and reality of Welsh representation in the movie industry" at Wales in the Movies, including reviews of Welsh and Welsh-interest films.
Find him on Twitter at @MoviesWales

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