2018 | rated R | starring Maika Monroe, Ed Skrein | directed by Frederico D’Alessandro | 1 hr 37 mins |

Halloween Horrorfest # 8

It’s not clear how much director Frederico D’Alessandro knows how close his debut techno-thriller Tau is, conceptually, to the 1977 Julie Christie cult classic The Demon Seed. In both film’s a hyper-intelligent AI restrains a woman inside a house that it has complete control over at the beheast of a mad scientist. In Demon Seed it’s his wife, in Tau it’s a wayward runaway escort Julia (Maika Monroe, It Follows). I say it’s not clear because it could just as easily be an outgrowth of general AI mania that’s sprung up between Ex Machina and the advent of actual smart houses as robots slowly take over our world and sent Silicon Valley billionaires into building bomb shelters. Also, because it’s just too conventional.

It’s an interesting little case study for how lame and cookie-cutter so many movies have gotten that the version of this story from 40 years ago is the more shocking and daring one. Demon Seed is famously hanging out on a limb all by itself. Tau is like most movies that deal with technology now – that movies like Demon Seed and Videodrome were not – it’s reverent to it. It marvels at the technology and wants us to sympathize with poor super-computer Tau (who is personified in a graphic that looks like something out of an Illuminati conspiracy theory and is voiced by Gary Oldman). Demon Seed is cold, effective and creepy in it’s techno warning. Tau is just silly.

It’s villain is not the AI house but the far easier to deal with antagonist, our very literal mad scientist Alex (Ed Skrein, Nicholas Hoult’s doppleganger) who ties people up in his electrified basement, stalks in and out of the house treating his captures like trash and, worst of all, tortures Tau. He doesn’t like his captures of course, but he also can’t stand the super-computer he’s using to capture them. The movie treats Tau’s code being deleted like another would electro-shock therapy. It’s like watching Johnny 5 getting beaten up by thugs and blood oil dripping out in Short Circuit 2. Feel for the robots, Tau can learn about what it’s like to be human.

Julia is the longest lasting member of a series of experiments Alex is making Tau perform on her. Even though Alex stalks off every day with Tau counting down to a big project he has due, it’s never made clear what this master project is and what these tests are. Is Alex supposed to be a villainous Steve Jobs creating the perfect smart home and needs kidnapped humans putting shapes together to do it? Wouldn’t people volunteer for this especially given how revolutionary the tech would be and how cordial Tau is? How does this maniac hold down a job without the insanity he seems barely holding together from slipping out? Do people really want super intelligent houses with giant robots that lumber around like guards in a Dishonored game? There are not thrills or chills here, so the mind spins to think about the economics of this technology because all we’re given here is a story about a girl who bonds with a house

It’s all monumentally goofy. That Tau isn’t a complete dud is all thanks to the ever-likable Maika Monroe who convincingly make us believe she’s built a friendship with a triangle projected on a wall.