If enough people are afraid of something, chances are there’s a horror movie about it. Don’t like clowns. Well, there’s plenty of low-budget killer clown movies to accompany Pennywise the Clown (It, It Chapter 2). Apparently, technology is a lot scarier for some people than figuring out the TV remote. From killer VHS tapes and video games to online chatrooms and social media, techno-horror is a firmly established sub-genre. Now as Artificial Intelligence (AI) increasingly finds its way into daily life, horror has a new ‘Boogeyman’ (Tau). Even Elon Musk has warned us about the dangers of AI. Arriving just in time for Halloween, Netflix’s latest release, AMI, offers a look into what would happen if SIRI went rogue.
After her mother dies in a tragic car accident, high school student Cassie finds herself lost in aimless and exploitative relationships. An absent father, a backstabbing friend, and a cheating boyfriend – Cassie is alone. But then she downloads a new smartphone personal assistant, A.M.I. When she customizes AMI to sound like her mother, the app quickly fills a void in Cassie’s life.
AMI a Tonally Offbeat Horror Movie
For much of AMI’s runtime, it’s hard to tell just what kind of movie you’re watching. Director Rusty Nixon sets things in motion rather abruptly. Specifically, the movie’s pacing isn’t so much quick as it is jarring. At times, it feels like things are happening without much justification. And tonally, AMI is an odd movie. Neither scary nor gory for its first two-thirds or so, it’s hard to tell what effect Nixon intended. Occasionally, AMI veers into the territory of other forgettable Netflix thrillers (see Twinsanity or Bad Match). Some viewers may be tempted to jump ship before things wrap up.
Neither scary nor gory for its first two-thirds or so, it’s hard to tell what effect Nixon intended.
However, by the movie’s final act, AMI seems to settle into dark humour territory. In fact, audiences may better appreciate AMI if they buy it as an intentional attempt at sardonic commentary. Nixon, who co-wrote the screenplay along with James Clayton and Evan Taylor, has a pretty clear message. That is, AMI is a dire warning about our obsession – our co-dependent relationship – with our smartphones. That tonal inconsistency and a clunky story initially make it hard to buy that a virtual personal assistant could turn someone into a killer. But by the time Cassie’s boyfriend, Liam, is personalizing his AMI to bark orders at him like his abusive footballl coach, the joke becomes a little more obvious. Once AMI settles on a tone, it’s final act and ending feel like a big improvement.
Slaves to Our Own Technology
How attached have we become to our phones? For a self-obsessed culture, there’s no doubt our smartphones have taken on a more and more important role in our lives. Psychologists have warning us about the dangers of screen for years now. Of course, AMI takes things to an extreme. While last year’s Upgrade looked at AI literally controlling us, AMI takes a different approach. Instead, the Canadian thriller looks at how its virtual personal assistant fills a void in people’s lives. For Cassie, AMI fills the emptiness left by her mother’s death. Conversely, Liam uses his AMI to pass the time left when he can no longer play football.
It’s an ambitious concept for a lower budget thriller. And we’ve certainly filled our lives with Facebook and Instagram. A lot of family dinners are probably spent staring blankly into a screen. Despite its lofty story-telling goals, however, AMI doesn’t necessarily nail the premise. Underwritten characters and lots of illogical jumps in the story leave the idea feeling half-baked. By the time AMI embraces its own premise, things have slid into slasher movie territory.
Broad Characters and Inconsistent Performances
If AMI wanted to be a dark horror-comedy, the performances may not be broad enough. On the other hand, if Nixon intended to make a full-fledged horror movie, the performance are too over-the-top. In fairness to the actors, several characters are just so underwritten that their role in the movie is muddled. At times, I wondered if the editors cut scenes with Cassie’s dad (Philip Granger). He’s in and out of the story so much, that his appearances feel awkward. And duplicitous friend, Sarah (Veronica Hampson) backstabs Cassie so abruptly that it requires a heavy does of expository dialogue.
As Cassie, Debs Howard gives an inconsistent performance that feels forced at times. In particular, Howard struggles to convince as an unhinged killer by the movie’s conclusion. Though AMI saddles him with the broadest role in boyfriend, Liam, Sam Robert Mulk acquits himself better than his co-stars. It’s a role that requires some heavy mugging, and Mulk happily obliges.
AMI Probably Needed a Software Update
With a climax that probably saved the movie from being a total time-waster, AMI struggles to find the right tone. Even if you give the Canadian thriller the benefit of the doubt, AMI isn’t nearly clever enough to pass as good satirical horror. Choppy pacing, underwritten characters, and inconsistent performances don’t help. Someday AI may pull a Skynet and enslave all of humanity. But for now we probably don’t have to worry about SIRI too much.