UNCANNY [Edinburgh Film Festival]

PrintE-mail Written by Andrew Marshall

Tech writer Joy is given week-long access to the home and workspace of reclusive robotics wunderkind David and his newest creation Adam, a robot so lifelike he initially fools her into believing him to be human. Her presence upsets the dynamic between the young father and his artificial son, and soon everyone begins to realise that becoming completely human might not always be a good thing.

It’s easy to compare Uncanny to the recent Ex Machina, as both deal with the evaluation of a human-like artificial intelligence. But where Alex Garland’s directorial debut had its AI Ava develop self-awareness due to her psychological development, Adam is seemingly unfazed by his synthetic nature, which makes for a less interesting examination of existential themes.

The film’s title refers to the uncanny valley, a cognitive phenomenon that basically means a robot that looks almost human but not quite will generally creep us out. The construction of Adam, who appears to be utterly indistinguishable from a human man, is the culmination of effort to rise up the valley’s far side. Unfortunately, in order to truly act like a real boy, he also begins to display negative human traits like anger and jealousy.

The film is a three-hander throughout between its trio of leads (Rainn Wilson has literally nothing to do other than sit isolated while glowering thoughtfully at computer screens while in the interim the story forgets he is actually there), and the single setting is used to the story’s advantage, creating an isolated environment that allows the future-as-present plot to play out without jarring with the real world. Although, in an attempt to make things look more futuristic, Leutwyler seems to have missed the running joke about J. J. Abrams’ lens flare fixation, and has distracting surges of blue-white light periodically blazing from a corner of the screen for no discernible reason, at one point irritatingly punctuating an entire conversation.

The romance that develops between Joy and David is as swift as it is unconvincing, and we see nothing of what would attract a seemingly well-rounded woman to an arrogant and emotionally distant recluse, which in a genre routinely criticised for its depiction of (often lone) female characters, is a disappointing throwback. The seven-day timeframe of the story magnifies its unlikelihood, and the fact their hook-up is only required for a significant plot development only serves to amplify how artificial it comes across as.

In the end, Uncanny proves itself to be little more another quasi-cerebral sci-fi that, despite its referencing of Eastern mysticism and endless chess motifs, really isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.


Expected Rating: 7 out of 10
Actual Rating:

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