In the sci-fi movie ‘Singularity,’ John Cusack plays visionary CEO Elias van Dorne, who brings sentient artificial life upon the world in the year 2020. Popularized by science fiction author Vernor Vinge, the Singularity is a theoretical point in future history when artificial intelligence exceeds the power of the human mind, becomes self-aware and dramatically changes the balance of power on the planet while simultaneously transforming the very nature of humanity itself. That’s the layman terminology for you, however I’m sure there’s volumes as thick as Donald Trumps’ hair lacquer filled with reports about it if you’re into interested in researching that kind of thing. If this ominously powerful computer intelligence makes you look at the screen and go, ‘Ah, yeah. Robot uprising, then. End of the world stuff, right there,’ then you’d be correct – because like Skynet in The Terminator, when Cusack decides to bring his Frankenstein’s Monster 2.0 AI online (nicknamed Kronos, which conjures images of Nomadic Vikings kicking children in the face and then brutally hacking them to pieces with pointy axes) the computer instantly decides that humanity is the plague infesting Earth and launches missiles into buildings across the world, eradicating homo sapiens from the equation and creating the end of civilisation as we know it. We skip 97 years into the future and Kronos is still trying to wipe out the last remnants of humanity. Oh yeah, and I guess it merges with Cusack’s character to keep him alive for so long…or something…y’know…future shit.
A teenager called Andrew (Julian Schaffner) awakens in the crumbled ruins of a building, a little confused as to how he’s survived the catastrophic annihilation of the world. He bumps into Katniss Everdeen look-alike Calia (Jeannine Wacker) and after not shouting in her face: ‘You’re clearly based on Jennifer Lawrence’s character from The Hunger Games!’ they form an uneasy alliance. Aimed at the Divergent and The Maze Runner YA Crowd, the film pits two teenagers in the cross-hairs of armoured mechanised bots intent with eliminating humans from the map of the world, as they try to find the last human city, known as Aurora.
The thing about Singularity however, is that you’ve seen it all before. On one hand, it’s a pretty decent attempt as a low budget sci-fi film with limited resources that brings CGI effects into the fold that aren’t abysmal. Some of these type of films, (I’m looking at you, Transmorphers, Birdemic and Sharknado) clearly had an eight year old managing their post-production effects on Microsoft paint – but Singularity at least shows passion with regards to that area. The bots on display here feel weighty and realised – the HUD displays even matching some of the triple A titles out there at the moment. There’s a few naff looking moments (poor dust particles when the main characters are fleeing a building, for example) but those moments can be overlooked – the real problem on display here is the staggeringly poor acting and directing choices, making the whole thing unoriginal and uninteresting.
The first glaringly obvious problem: Julian Schaffner does not make a good lead for this film. His expressions span from adolescent indifference to bug-eyed horror. There doesn’t really seem to be an in-between mode to his range, so in most shots when he’s clearly looking at a green screen or into the distance at some mechanised horror, he just looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. You’ll see this dead-eyed stare countless times, so much in fact that you’ll get to play a drinking game with it. Andrew stares at the screen like a slack-jawed muppet with bulging eyes – 2 shots of whiskey. Andrew looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing and should have been machine-gunned countless times by now – 4 injections of crystallised meth direct into your eyeballs.
He also runs with his arms down by his side at all times, which made me think that perhaps in his youth he was an Irish dancer and the barrage of drill instructions to KEEP HIS ARMS DOWN has left him in a strange PTSD stupor, mentally scarred and afraid to extend his arms when running. It’s a nick-picky thing to look at – but it really did annoy me. Wacker tries to compensate Schaffner’s lack of anything resembling acting with her feisty robo-warrior sassiness, and at least brings range to her character, but with poorly written dialogue for her to speak, it’s an unconvincing narrative that only reminds us of better movies. It doesn’t help that her voice pops up now and then in a diary format, giving the viewer exposition that we don’t really need to hear – as she’s talking about things that we’re perceiving onscreen as they’re occurring. Kouba does show promise as a young film maker, and hopefully his next effort will concentrate more on characters than effects – but Singularity is unfortunately let down by an all too familiar plot and derivative individuals that you’ll be hard pressed to warrant any interest in.
Second error: For a world that is meant to be 97 years in the future, everything looks very…clean. Calia looks like she’s just stepped out of the nearest high street store, adorning this year’s hot apocalyptic range for young adults, with complimentary crossbow and tools to see her through Armageddon. Andrew is perfectly clean shaven and his hair is gelled like a boy band member – we don’t see even the faintest smear of dirt on his face. In one of the opening scenes, a shop is engulfed in ivy to reflect nature’s dominance over the years, however in other shots an ‘old’ house has gleaming whitewashed walls and still looks very lived in. They’re constantly in scenarios with maintained paths and cut grass – so it would have been nice to see a few shots of them in overgrown areas to showcase how nature has fought back. It just becomes jarring and pulls you straight out of this post human world.
Countless times during watching this movie I was taken back to James Cameron’s Terminator film – there’s a scene set in the future war where Kyle Reese is silently trying to get past some Hunter Killer death machines – but they’re discovered and one of Reese’s comrades – a woman, throws a future-looking seismic grenade before getting zapped to oblivion. There’s a look of pain and anguish on Reese’s face before continuing with his mission. This small scene that probably lasted about 10 seconds spoke more to me about their relationship than you get in the whole 90-odd minutes between Andrew and Calia. At the start she’s wary of him, and then twenty minutes later has her arm wrapped around him as they sleep. It’s as if the director couldn’t choose when they’re emerging romance was meant to be blossoming, so cut frantically from the frosty ‘try to keep up with me or I leave you behind,’ mantra to ‘I love you and want to have your robo-babies.’
Yes, that’s right – we learn in the first fifteen minutes that Andrew is in fact an android, built by Cusack’s character to become the ultimate spy for Kronos. There’s a scene that’s totally unnecessary to let the audience know that Andrew is in fact a creation simply designed to use Calia in order to find Aurora and infiltrate it for Kronos, so that they can wipe out the remaining humans in the earth. It’s a plot point that should have been kept as a stinger for the audience later on, but instead it’s simply landed on our laps at the beginning, so we’re forced to watch a thinly veiled Blade Runner-esque social commentary on what it is to be human in the latter half of the film. It’s a so-so storyline, with the central premise hinging on the audience’s empathy towards the two main leads. But by the time the credits roll you’ll wish Andrew would have been left in the crumbled ruins of wherever he woke up from, and you’ll be left looking languidly at your screen (the same way John Cusack seems to stare morosely at the monitor screens during the entirety of his performance here) and think to yourself: Meh. I feel like watching The Terminator now.
Created by (at the time) 20 year old filmmaker Robert Kouba and financed by Kickstarter funds, Singularity began life as a low budget film called ‘Aurora,’ that was shot in and around the Czech Republic and Switzerland during the summer of 2013. Years later, scenes with Cusack were added into the production and the whole thing was polished off with extensive CGI effects. So what we really have with Singularity is a dumbed down mash up of The Termintor, The Hunger Games and The Matrix. Films like 1999’s The Matrix showed us a world struggling in aftermath of the collapse of humanity when seemingly malevolent artificial intelligence enslaved humanity. It was released during the mainstream explosion of the Internet and all the uncertainty it cultivated. There was a message of technological malevolence that deeply embedded itself in the zeitgeist for the time. What we get with Singularity is two teenagers running aimlessly around forests, looking like Abercrombie and Fitch models for a post-apocalyptic photo shoot.
Lastly, we get to John Cusack. I’m a fan of Cusack’s work, ranging from his commercial hits like Con Air, Hot Tub Time Machine, 2012, 1408, High Fidelity, The Grifters and Say Anything. I’ve loved his indie work, Grosse Pointe Blank still being a favourite that I revisit quite often – I’ve even enjoyed some of his lesser known roles, like Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven, The Numbers Station and The Carrier. But I’m stumped as to why he would find this film so appealing to associate himself with it. I can’t believe that it was just for the paycheque; perhaps he was sold a different film than the one that was finally released. Maybe he thought it would be an existential social commentary about technology in the day and age we live in, but I can’t see why he would really need to star in a movie like this – we just see him staring sullenly at monitor screens for the majority of his performance and providing lacklustre exposition for the audience. It’s a wasted opportunity for a talented actor such as himself. And this is what Singularity is, really – a wasted opportunity that could have focused more on characters and story than CGI. I hope to see more from Robert Kouba, as he knows how to shoot a film – but maybe from an original script that doesn’t take pieces from other well known movies.
Review by Anthony Self
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