Directed by: Federico D’Alessandro
Starring: Maika Monroe, Ed Skrein, Gary Oldman
A familiar A.I. thinkpiece told with optimistic conviction, Federico D’Alessandro’s ‘Tau‘ depicts the complicated relationship between technology and humanity. Julia (Maika Monroe) has just returned to her home, having spent the past few hours stealing in seedy nightclubs; her life is lonely and unpredictable. It’s only fitting, then, that a gritty Sci-Fi film such as this one moves in a grim direction. She is abducted from her home and wakes up restrained and gagged in a dark prison inside of a home with two other people, each with an implant in the back of their necks. The escape plan is urgent and little on details, but it’s not until the confrontation between Julia and her kidnapper, Alex (Ed Skrein), that tension boils on who holds the most power with the home’s dangerous technology.
This isn’t a surprising debut for D’Alessandro, whose animatics for countless blockbusters such as ‘Doctor Strange‘, ‘Ant-Man‘, ‘I Am Legend ‘and others demonstrate his familiarity with technology and its role within the medium. ‘Tau‘ employs the same detail and confidence in the visual effects, disguising what’s presumably a smaller budget film into a Sci-Fi epic akin to ‘Ex Machina’ or ‘Moon‘. The clunky smart computer, Tau (voiced by Gary Oldman), is reminiscent of ‘2001’s HAL 9000, borrowing the hypnotic and evil red dot and pairing it with the threatening robotic voice of control. It works mostly because it contrasts the pre-established world for Julia in which everything is unpredictable, therefore a robot (whose robotic nature is designed for a direct purpose) is the perfect dynamic for a story about how two different kinds of species can coexist.
At the same time, though, D’Alessandro fails to develop the new aspects of the technological debate, instead focusing on an overly familiar tale of threatened survival in the face of A.I.: assured but uninspired. Julia’s traumatic past is only flashed between “extractions,” as the white egomaniac kidnapper Alex, likened to that of Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, puts it. It’s a refreshing link between childhood trauma and the abusive power humans hold over technology. But D’Alessandro ignores its existence in preference of on-the-nose commentary on technological consciousness, as though 2017-18 hasn’t been a year of extensive Sci-Fi exploration in the same realm. It’s an entertaining Sci-Fi blitz that’s just missing one spark of new inspiration.