Simulant, written by Ryan Christopher Churchill and directed by April Mullen, is the kind of film that gives away all its secrets as soon as the first scene appears on the screen. There is no suspense in the narrative, and everything unfolds as per our expectations. One can enjoy a predictable material if it's made with artistry. But there is no joy in watching this movie, and it doesn't seem as if the people behind the camera had any fun making it. The filmmakers grapple with profound questions concerning humans and machines when they should have just made a slasher along the lines of M3GAN. Because the writing lacks meat. The filmmakers pursue a great theme and attempt to make something as meaningful as, say, A.I. Artificial Intelligence or Blade Runner 2049. But the screenplay fails to expand on the themes. It doesn't bring in any new perspective. Simulant has nothing fresh or exciting to convey to us. It simply recycles clichés with incompetence.
In Simulant, all Simulates (humanoid robots) obey four precepts: 1) Do not inflict harm on any human being. 2) Do not modify yourself or any other Simulate. 3) Do not commit crimes against international or local law. 4) Obey all commands from your masters. As soon as these rules are read out in the film, we intuit that they will be broken. We are always two or three steps ahead of the story, which means we instantly grasp all the information regarding all the characters after spending a few seconds in their company. So when Evan (Robbie Amell) stands outside a door and says to Faye (Jordana Brewster), "I couldn't enter the room," you immediately understand why he was unable to enter the room.
Simulant often makes lackadaisical decisions to move the plot forward. Sample this: An officer, Kessler (Sam Worthington), enters a bookstore and inquires about a man named Casey (Simu Liu). Do you know what happens next? Casey, too, arrives at the bookstore. Very convenient, no? But then, what else can you expect from a carelessly assembled production? Mullen treats every scene as a bullet point. She merely hands out "important details" without lingering on dramatic moments or permeating the frames with sufficient emotions. The shots of Faye swimming, using a VR headset, and reminiscing about past events are stitched together so clumsily that I wondered if the editing was done by an AI. The script, though, indeed looks like something that could be generated by ChatGPT.
Simulant is a simple-minded hokum that asks, "What does it mean to be human?" and answers the question by changing the code of simulates and recommending them a Dostoevsky book. The movie likes to underline its ideas through dialogues because it's inept at conveying them through visuals. And so, you have Faye remarking, "It's not you. You have his body." Evan follows an injured officer so that we can listen to a speech about robots being considered inferiors (despite his backstory, this officer is not converted into a complex character because something like that requires skill, which this film has a shortage of). What the movie does is that it takes a complicated concept and filters it through a Jejune lens. It says that humans and robots can co-exist without any problem, and then later realizes how AI can be harmful if it's freed from restrictions. A thoughtful film would have used the latter point to suggest parallels between machines and flesh and blood individuals. But here, it comes across as a shallow balancing act to dodge criticism.
In the film's final scenes, Evan, the simulate, goes inside the swimming pool and kills a character. He becomes Evan the Terrible. Perhaps, Simulant (and, by extension, this scene) would have worked better if it had been about an AI bot in love with Faye who goes on a murder spree when characters try to come between him and his object of desire (because it's too superficial to do justice to the weighty material). You know, something like M3GAN.
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