Jenny (Elissa Dowling) is overworked, underappreciated and underpaid. The only bit of joy she gets from being at work is getting to talk to Auto (Jeff J. Knight) her only friend in her boring nine to five. Auto is always there for her when she needs a friend, is interested in her true passion of becoming a singer and gives good back rubs.
Auto is also the only robot working with Jenny and when his creator, Alan (Parry Shen) pays a visit to the workplace, it seems that Auto’s usefulness may not be required by the company any more. Plainly put, Alan is looking to terminate Auto’s employment and his life and due to a dark past that Auto has never really got over, he feels that now is the right time to fight back.
Automation is the feature debut from director Garo Setian. Starting out as a light hearted, unconventional Christmas movie, Automation turns into something quite different about half way through and it isn’t entirely clear which type of movie it wants to be.
Once Auto’s programming malfunctions, the movie turns into horror which may put off or delight its audience as the tonal shift is quite heavy and despite the dark humour that has come before, with the way Auto is treated and the observations about workplace relations, some people may not be expecting how dark the film actually gets.
Starting out with themes reminiscent of Robocop and Short Circuit, the second half of the film ends up paying more of a debt to Terminator and Predator which shows just how drastically the film changes. Where the film may pick up another kind of audience, it loses another as the heart of the movie is all but forgotten and that is a problem as it makes it unclear which audience it is really targeting. Dowling does her best when working against what is basically a faceless actor in a low budget robot costume, but like most of the cast her characterisation is never really fleshed out enough to feel either hope for her survival or for the audience to want to see her gone.
There are other characters that make up Jenny’s colleagues in the workplace, but again their backstories are skimmed over so that when Auto does eventually go on a rampage, the audience is never given the chance to feel anything for them either and that’s a shame.
It could at least have given the script a chance to say something about working in an office or make them feel something for when they die, but it just seems like they were set up just to be cannon fodder. Although this may be best suited for a horror movie, as I said earlier, it’s not entirely clear that this is what the audience would have been getting.
I will say though that I liked the kitchy, low budget look of Auto and the clear indication that it is merely an actor in a suit does take the edge of a little when the audience needs to empathise towards the robot fighting for his life.
Also, for all its faults Knight does a pretty good job going from kind hearted robot with a soul to a murderous killbot. It’s just a shame that the final product doesn’t go from dramatic, unusual romantic drama to slasher horror just as seamlessly.
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