Netflix’s weird B-Movie catalogue is not lacking and ‘Tau’, in which a killer AI, begins to learn some humanity, is no different. Voiced by Gary Oldman, Tau is a device tasked with studying how to be more human. But surprise surprise picks up some pesky emotions of its own along the way.
The movie takes the ‘locked room’ set up very literally. Party girl Julia (Maika Monroe) is kidnapped and imprisoned in a high tech apartment. Her captor, Alex (Ed Skrein), makes it very clear what will happen if she tries to escape or does not comply. She faces death by a huge household killer robot that would put the fear of gears into ED209 from Robocop. Her task? Interact with Tau, a household assistant AI that is like Siri x 1000, so that Tau can learn how to better emulate and anticipate human responses.
So, that’s a cast of three in this sci-fi thriller, with one of them as voice-over only. Oldman does a fine job of imbuing Tau with a personality that suggests trillions of calculations are bubbling under the surface. As Tau and Julia start to forge a connection over learning and music, Oldman gives off a real air of something slowly awakening. It’s the scenes between him and Monroe that sparkle the most. Similarly when Alex punishes Tau by deleting parts of his memory, Oldman’s pained pleads for mercy are poignant and powerful.
The rest of the movie is standard low-end sci-fi. Tech genius Alex may be a volatile and threatening presence throughout, but his character and motivations never push beyond the normal ‘smart-ass douche’ trope. He pops up to keep ensure that the pacing beats are hit and the pops out again when not needed.
By nature of Monroe’s imprisonment (and Tau literally being a big triangle in a wall) we barely leave the apartment for the length of the movie. Initially, there is some claustrophobic tension accentuated by the limited colour palette of reds and blacks as well as close quarters camera work. But this can’t be sustained throughout and you will be wanting for more to look at as the movie continues.
Really, Tau is perfectly serviceable if not adding anything fresh or new. You know exactly how the movie is going to go so it’s just a case of sitting back and waiting for it to happen. There is good tension at points and the wham-bam gore splat upfront courtesy of our killer robot butler is satisfyingly wince-worthy. But this could have been a self-contained short story rather than padded out for feature-length. One for the ‘can’t decide what to watch tonight so this will do’ pile.
Words by Michael Record