Review: THE ALPHA TEST (2020)
Robots are a staple of science fiction and horror films. Sometimes benevolent helpers and sometimes threats to our existence. Aaron Mirtes’ (Clowntergeist, The OctoGames) The Alpha Test explores the line between the two. And what happens when we push our mechanical servants over that line?
JD (Brad Belemjian, Curse Of The Nun) has won an Alpha (Rae Hunt, Another Apocalyptic Zombie Movie). Alphas are robotic home assistants, a new product on the market. His father Rob (Wynn Reichert, Tennessee Gothic, Hungry Dog Blues) is amused by it. His mother Mimi (Alice Raver) however is not happy about it. To the point where she locks it in the garage at night. Only Lily (Bella Martin) treats it with respect.
Trained to learn from its surroundings and interactions, Alpha becomes confused and hurt by the treatment it receives. Lily, herself the target of bullying, tells Alpha to stand up for itself. This leads to some unforeseen consequences and a failed factory reset. But when Mimi decides to shoot Alpha, she sets off a violent chain reaction of events.
Mirtes deserves a lot of credit for getting The Alpha Test made. He not only wrote and directed it, he was producer, editor and cinematographer as well. I also noticed this was made “in association with” High Octane Pictures. It seems they’re making a move into production as well as distribution now.
Given Mirtes’ previous films, I was expecting a fairly straight-up killer robot film. But The Alpha Test has a bit more depth than that. There’s a message in the first act about bullying, as Alpha learns from and reacts to her treatment. She also learns from what she hears in conversation and on television.
You might remember a few years back Microsoft put Tay, an AI bot, on Twitter to see how it would learn from conversations. It took less than a day for the folk that make Twitter so much fun to avoid to have Tay tweeting white supremacist and alt-right crap. Well, it’s the same idea here. Alpha is exposed to the darker side of humanity and learns all the wrong lessons.
The Alpha Test does, of course, turn the horror on in the final act as Alpha strikes back. And that revenge is surprisingly sadistic. Unfortunately, the low budget means we don’t get to see much beyond spraying blood. The design of Alpha, a humanoid female with a face that resembles the Mechanical Animals era Marilyn Manson, just adds to the creepiness of these scenes.
Even if the final twist isn’t much of a surprise, The Alpha Test is an effective piece of sci-fi/horror. And perhaps, in a world in which we’re doing more and more with algorithms and artificial intelligence, a cautionary tale.
High Octane Pictures will release The Alpha Test on DVD and Digital, March 10th. You can check High Octane Pictures’ Facebook page for more details.