Imagine everything you love in your partner. Their tenderness, their sense of humor, their deep abiding devotion.
Now imagine you could record all that, and save it in an identical robot. Could you love that robot, too?
Simulant thinks so.
In its near-future scenario, basic humanoid robots – called simulants, or “sims” – now work as housekeepers and hostesses. The wealthy, though, can buy a deluxe model, capable of recording the owner’s memories.
Leave instructions in your will to switch it on after you die, and you can go on living – sort of.
That’s the dream, anyway. But the dream soon sours in Simulant, as a grieving widow realizes her new robo-hubby isn’t going to stop the grief process, and a renegade engineer starts making his almost-human creations more than human.
This is familiar territory, to be sure. But to be fair, as well, the inspirations here include not just Blade Runner and I Robot, but Ex Machina. It’s the humans who come off as impersonal and unfeeling. It’s the robots we root for.
Director April Mullen has put together a solid cast, headlined by Jordana Brewster as the widow, and Sam Worthington as the grizzled investigator who hunts down repli… excuse me, simulants. Robbie Arnell, who looks uncomfortably like a sim version of Simon Cowell, plays the android.
Best is Simu Liu, who plays the rogue engineer who’s created a sort of underground railroad to get these simulants to freedom. He’s a character a little too dependent on fleeting references – his dog is named Trotsky, his favorite author is Dostoevsky – but he definitely adds some extra humanity to this tale.
So does Mullen’s stylish creativity. Shot in wintry Canada, her film has a grey bleakness. The technology is imaginative, and mostly independent of other, earlier films’ ideas. The simulants’ programming is contained in a large crystal embedded in their chests, Worthington’s chief weapon is an electro-magnetic-pulse gun that can shut down a block’s worth of devices.
Although those details are fun, the characters could have used a bit more work. The grim Worthington’s motivation is always clearer than the screenplay thinks it is; Brewster’s is more obscure. And some things – like Liu yelling to Arnell to pack a bag, even as the police are approaching – are simply silly. Armed cops are running down the hall and you’re stopping to pack a bag?
But while those gaps can be distressing – and reminiscent of the missteps in her last fun but flawed thriller, Wander – they don’t seriously detract from the power of Simulant. Or the pleasure of seeing a movie where maybe, this time, the robots might win.