Making a lot out of a little is the low-budget dream.
Project Dorothy certainly starts with a little. It has two actors. It has, basically, a single set. And at its core, it has one idea: Two men trapped in an empty building.
It’s when it tries to turn that little into a lot that it gets into trouble.
The story has two bank robbers fleeing a botched job. It was a strange gig to begin with – break into a safe-deposit box and steal the laptop stashed inside. It got worse when one of them got shot.
And it’s about to get weird when they seek shelter in what looks like an abandoned factory – and they discover there’s still something alive inside, a sentient and malevolent computer program called “Dorothy.”
Unfortunately the film never gets beyond these bare bones.
Most of its brief running time seems to consist of the two characters running up and down empty corridors or across vast loading docks. Those scenes are then padded out by lengthy tracking shots from the point of view of their robotic pursuers – murderous forklifts.
Give the filmmakers a point for that – murderous forklifts aren’t something you often come across in a sci-fi movie.
There’s also, to be fair, a very compelling performance here by Tim DeZarn as James, the older and grittier of the two thieves, who’s dealing with a wounded leg and an inexperienced partner. And there are some nice effects, seeing things from Dorothy’s point-of-view.
But the film’s budgetary compromises are obvious from the beginning, and only sow confusion.
How, after fleeing a big bank robbery, did these two characters end up fleeing on foot, through what looks like farmland? And if the place where they took shelter really is some sort of high-tech cyber research facility, why is it full of heavy machinery?
The strange thing about sci-fi and fantasy is that you can get an audience to believe one big thing if you get all the little things right. I’m willing to believe that some artificial intelligence has come to intelligent life and is willing to take over the world.
That’s why I never got into the whole Alexa thing.
But if I have no idea where these characters came from, don’t understand how they got here, don’t believe their relationship for a second, and don’t accept this empty factory as some kind of research institute don’t expect me to just swallow the fact that some flirty, feminine computer program is poised to take over the world.
Free tip here: The real secret to making a good low-budget film isn’t saving money on the shoot. It’s spending time on the script.