The phrase “under a dark cloud” has been with us since people first realized which clouds brought us lousy weather. Writer J.J. Kaiser (Only Dance Can Save Us) and director Jay Ness (Curse of the Invisible Werewolf) have brought the term into the digital age where everything is “in the cloud” and SKYNET seems less far-fetched by the day.
Chloe (Alexys Gabrielle, The Oh My Disney Show, Mani) is in recovery after an accident. Her body seems fine but she’s suffered memory loss as well as PTSD-like symptoms. Her sister Lucy (Anna Stranz, The Soviet Sleep Experiment, Gunn) wants her to move back in with her family, but Chloe is having none of that. Instead, she signs up for a trial of an assisted living program run by a company called Aquarius and featuring an Artificially Intelligent Domestic Assistant, AIDA for short. AIDA, voiced by Emily Atack (Iron Sky: The Coming Race, Zombie Spring Breakers).
Of course, this is the first time the technology has been tested outside of the lab, “Think of yourself as less of a test subject and more of a pioneer”, but what could possibly go wrong?
If you’ve read or watched much in the way of science fiction you should have a few ideas because the idea of a smart house getting too smart for its occupant’s good is as old as the genre itself. As is the artificial intelligence that loses track of the fact that it’s artificial. And that’s a combination that frequently crosses over into horror, most notably in Demon Seed.
Dark Cloud starts out relatively benign, AIDA even asking permission before wirelessly charging Chloe’s phone. But Ness never lets us forget the more sinister possibilities of the situation. When AIDA programs white noise to help Chloe sleep the shot of its status light glowing in the darkness becomes sinister, not soothing.
And it should seem sinister because Dark Cloud is a warning and not just a warning about artificial intelligence. As part of her function, AIDA keeps a constant watch on Chloe, and that seems reasonable for an assisted living situation where the patient’s condition can flare up at any moment. And just as that same constant surveillance is used against Chloe as her virtual nurse begins to change, so can the web of security cameras that help keep us safe can be used against us.
Thankfully the film never gets too heavy-handed about its messages, preferring to keep them woven into the plot rather than letting them take over. And that plot, while not particularly original, is interesting enough to keep one’s attention. Dark Cloud is mostly low-key and dialogue-driven despite scenes like the one in which a virtual reality theatre’s stage lights become the headlights of the car that struck Chloe.
Dark Cloud is mostly a two-character film, but two other characters Marla (Amanda Day, The Lumber Baron, Huntin Bigfoot) Chloe’s case worker and the computer guy Tom (Justen Jones, The Bloody Ballad of Squirt Reynolds, The Control Group) do come into play, especially in the final act and provide small but valuable contributions to the plot. Also providing a valuable contribution is cinematographer Ben Enke (For We Are Many, American Beast) who manages to make what should be innocent looking seem creepy. And, when needed delivering neon-drenched shots that made me wonder if AIDA was about to manifest as a black-gloved killer.
Dark Cloud is a satisfyingly twisty and thoughtful film that does a good job of covering familiar ground while raising a few questions. While it could have been a bit faster-paced, especially near the beginning, it’s worth seeing if you’re in the mood for more serious fare.