Fear of technology has been a constant source of cinematic material since cameras started rolling. It is a often found theme in science fiction stories. The idea can even come up in other genres such as horror and even romantic comedies. As times have changes, society has become increasingly reliant and comfortable with these advancements. There are still tales of dystopian futures, but the simplistic worry of robots taking away all jobs is no longer a hot button topic.
Then there is 2019’s Automation.
The comedy-horror is the story of a robot named AUTO and the office it works at. Due to decreasing profits, the company has decided to replace 90% of its human staff with automated workers. Unsurprisingly, the human staff are not too pleased to hear of the upcoming changes. The night the changes are going to be finalized, people and robots begin to take things into their own hands.
The robots taking over the workforce trope used by Automation is a quaint and old fashioned idea that does not translate well to modern times. While this was a realistic fear even two decades ago, it is not something that is a current source of worry. In a age when most people’s grandparents are on social media, automation in the workplace is something that is welcomed. People realize computers have not taken work away, they have just moved it in a different direction.
This appreciation and widespread use makes director Garo Setian’s movie seem to lack awareness. The story is telling its audience to be scared of something that has improved their quality of life. That being said, using increasing technology as the broad framework for a deeper story is not a bad idea. For a while, that seems to the the direction the film is going to take. Automation is not going to be a serious dangers of a computerized society story, but a comedy. Not only that, it is going to be a mismatched rom com.
Unfortunately, the movie never quite hits its marks. The characters may be the biggest issue. It is hard to feel anything for any of them. The antagonists really are not that bad, side characters suddenly become incredibly evil, and the one character who does remain consistent is comically over the top. It is hard to laugh at the sillier bits of dialogue because it is hard to tell if they are played for laughs or meant to be serious. This leads to a story with a bunch of interchangeable characters that leave no impression.
The problem is the audience is obviously supposed to care. Why does the woman who suggests she wants to have sex with AUTO and is sleeping with a man she knows is married deserve our pity? Why care when it is suggested that a major character reveals something painfully intimate in a one off line that is never revisited? Why should a person watching even root against AUTO to begin with? Automation never takes time to build its characters and seems content to have the audience fill in the blanks.
The plot and pacing are also hard to follow. Along with characters changing motivations with every scene is the lack of continuity. From having AUTO suddenly have the ability to shoot lasers to including unnecessary characters, Automation will constantly have viewers asking “What?” and “Why?” for all the wrong reasons. All this culminates in a twist ending that further proves Setian had no idea what type of movie he was making.
The real shame is there is actually a good movie hidden inside Automation. The story is at its best when it tries to be a rom com. As AUTO learns, he becomes attached to Jenny. As the plot progresses he begins to care for her. Jenny is oblivious and there is even a bully type character who mocks the robot for having feelings. It is not the most original premise, but it is one that can work. Right as the “awww” moment is about to begin, the killings commence.
Automation is a comedy horror that tries to do more than it is capable of. The budding relationship between AUTO and Jenny is cute and fun to watch. There is nothing new here; it is just typical rom com fare that has managed to engage audiences for decades. Regrettably, it decides to go in a nonsensical horror direction that is off putting. Characters begin to act in ways they should not making the audience realize they are watching something in need of an update.