With ever increasing “smart” technology figuring more and more prominently in our daily lives, it’s no surprise that sci-fi cautionary tales like those seen on the likes of Black Mirror are all the rage. This is hardly a new phenomenon as even classic Hollywood was known to warn against the evils of television back in the day (1953 cult-classic The Twonky comes to mind). With our phones growing ever smarter and our fellow humans seemingly growing dumber every year, the ground for tech horror has never been more fertile as seen in BC indie AMI.
Still not over the death of her mother from a freak car collision, high school senior Cassie (Debs Howard) makes due with therapy, medication and the company of her football star boyfriend Liam (Sam Robert Muik,). Her world is upended by the discovery of a mysterious phone (its origin is never made clear), programmed with the hottest new app, AMI. “It’s like Siri, only with a personality” explains one of her friends. Feeling isolated from her father Greg (Philip Granger) who has turned to cradle robbing in a sorry attempt to deal with his wife’s death, Cassie makes the decision to customize her AMI app to mimic her deceased mother.
What starts as a tool to give Cassie closure and comfort soon takes a sinister turn as AMI’s networking reveals the infidelity of Liam with their mutual promiscuous friend Sarah (Veronica Hampson). Convinced by AMI to ditch her meds, Cassie’s confrontation with Sarah quickly turns deadly, but “mother” is there to help guide her in disposing of the evidence. As you might expect, one murder begets another and it’s not long before Cassie is mowing down every person who wronged her, each bloody act cheered on and curated by her digital surrogate mother.
While the film has a curiously bumpy start with film-school camera work and uni-dimensional characterizations dominating the story’s opening minutes, things quickly settle in with the introduction of AMI. Almost too quickly in fact as the filmmakers substitute a montage for adequate character development to get Cassie from high school sweetheart to unhinged killing machine. I might tolerate such structure from one hour of television, but a feature demands much more buildup.
Be that as it may, once Cassie has racked up her first kill, the remainder of the film is a non-stop thrill ride equal parts terrifying and hilarious with a slight hint of of tragedy throughout. Like Norman Bates before her, Cassie may have turned out just fine with some love, attention and abstinence from bad influence. Debs Howard handles all of this with flair along with a solid cast of supporting players who hit their parts with gusto from first breath until last. This all culminates in a chiller ending that will stick with you long after the credits have finished their roll.
While I feel compelled to deduct points for a rushed first act and the film’s adherence to Canadian production in an American setting (seriously producers, grow a spine already!) AMI combines equal parts Black Mirror and Psycho to concoct a thrilling genre experience that may make you think twice about trusting Siri again.