Review: AUTOMATION (2019)

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Industrial robotics and the replacement of factory workers by machines is a hot topic these days. With all the talk of bringing manufacturing back from China, many experts are debating how many jobs will actually be created due to the growing automation of modern factories. Well, director Garo Setian and co-writers Matthew L. Schaffer and Rolfe Kanefsky (Art Of The Dead, Bus Party To Hell) have created their own take on this. Automation billed as a mix of Robocop and Office Space I doubt we’ll be seeing it mentioned in any scholarly articles, however.

Thanks to the efficiency of the robot Auto (Jeff J. Knight in the suite, voiced by Jim Tasker) Alert Insulation has managed to eliminate most of its human 3rd shift workers apart from Jenny (Elissa Dowling, Girl on the Third Floor). That has worked so well. So well they plan to replace most of the rest of their staff with even more efficient models. At Christmas no less.

However, when Auto learns that he’s to be replaced as well he reacts in an all too human manner. A good old fashioned killing spree.

Automation gets off to a mostly satirical start sending up corporate life. From cold-hearted bean counter Susan (Sadie Katz, Mayday) justifying the layoffs “If we do it now we can give them a nice severance package”. Or Devin Skipper Graham (Bliss, Bad Apples) talking about the last contract negotiations and trying to make Auto look stupid.

We get a hint of what’s to come though from some nightmare sequences. Androids may dream of electric sheep but factory droids dream of murder. One of these nightmares is also a hint at an important plot point. Auto was originally designed for military purposes. And that programming kicks back in when he finds his existence is at risk.

The announcement for Automation references Robocop and Auto does look a bit like him. I found bigger doses of Soldier, I Robot and, of course, Hardware in the script. As with many of these films, it takes a bit too long to get to the promised horror. Granted the lead up is better than most kill the annoying teen movies but that’s beside the point.

Even after the killing starts Automation takes its time going into horror mode. It remains a bloody look at the definition of human. And the definition of sentience and emotions for a bit longer before becoming a slasher take on Hardware. Even to the point of using cold air to confuse the robot’s heat sensors.

Automation does have a talented cast that also includes such familiar faces as Jeff Rector (An Hour To Kill, Bermuda Tentacles), Sarah French (Rootwood, The Amityville Murders) and Parry Shen (Victor Crowley, Snowpiercer) as Alan, Auto’s creator. They help get the film through its slower points rather painlessly.

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There’s little in the way of gore effects besides a beheading by laser beam. There are some sci-fi touches, however. Automation is set in one of those near futures that looks like now except for odd-looking craft in the sky and little worker bots everywhere. They’re done quite well. The main flashback to Auto’s military days, unfortunately, is full of awful CGI.

Overall, the result is a confused film that doesn’t seem to be sure of what it wants to be. It’s still an interesting film and I’m giving Automation a guarded recommendation. As long as you know you’re not getting ninety minutes of robotic mayhem you may find it worth a watch. But it’s not the film it’s billed as. Or the one it could have been.

Epic Pictures horror imprint Dread will release Automation on November 29th for limited theatrical play and on VOD and Blu-Ray December 3rd.

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