Robot Revolution (2015)

As I noted in my review for Millennium Crisis, Andrew Bellware is one of those directors who intrigue me.

He has made a career for himself turning out interesting micro-budgeted science fiction films that are strong on style and visuals, loaded with SF ideas, and extremely  ambitious considering their meager budgets.  He has his own micro studio in New York City, and has turned out ten SF films over a fourteen year period (with several new projects currently in the works).

Now, I’m not saying he’s a great director, but he has an incredible knack for making his minimal films look good.  His actors always perform well, his scripts are solid, and he makes good use of his digital effects, without the whole film descending into the colorful depths of the uncanny valley.

That’s enough to make his movies stand out from the bulk of the low-budget SF out there.

Robot Revolution is perhaps the best of his films that I’ve seen (although I should note that  it has been a few years since I saw Clonehunter and Prometheus Trap which makes comparing them a little harder).  It has a driving, straightforward plot and takes place within a confined space — in this case, a high-rise apartment building.  Hawkins, A tough female Marshall, and her android partner have been sent to investigate a report that an infamous terrorist has been seen in the building.

However, things go very wrong and a deadly terrorist weapon is accidentally released into the building.  Getting out is now going to be a lot harder than getting in ever was…

I hadn’t read anything about this one or watched the trailer before I screened it, which meant that it came as a pleasant surprise to find that Robot Revolution is not at all like what I expected.  Nor does it much resemble any of the other Bellware movies I’ve seen (and, in fact the films I’ve seen bear little resemblance to each other, other than sharing a similar directoral approach.  

The basic situation reminds me a lot of Dredd (one of the best SF films no one saw), which also starts with two police officers entering a building on a seemingly routine investigation.   While it gets off to a somewhat slow start, gradually introducing the tower’s residents, unhelpful super, and its malfunctioning equipment, once the terrorists enter the picture and the deadly nanotech bioweapon is accidentally released, Robot Revolution suddenly roars to life.

The weapon itself is a moderately interesting variation on something very familiar.   I love the repeated insistence that “They’re not zombies” — and the fact that that refrain does get discarded somewhere along the way.

The android’s design is reasonably well done, although it may help that we don’t see much of it, even though it is the film’s main character.  The film’s prologue suggests that we are about to see a found footage film.  However, while we do see a lot of it in “Robot Cam,” a big part of the movie is shot from other perspectives.  This framing device does allow Andrew to use one of his trademarks:  layers of effects and filters — in this case mostly robot cam graphics and static — modifying his live action footage.  In Millennium Crisis, Bellware used this more extensively and it was rather more obvious that he was doing it to cover up the limitations of his low budget footage.  Here, as he is mostly shooting in an existing building, he doesn’t need it as much and it seems more of an artistic choice.

One of my favorite elements is the building’s aging sanitizer robot, a noisy, lumbering metal monster which creaks and grinds its way through the building polishing the floors.  I love the look of the thing, and even though it is obviously CGI, it still feels fairly substantial.

And, yes, we go get to see it turn on its masters.  Even if the movie does not deliver the massed robot battles its title suggests.

I was somewhat amused to note that one of the two actors in the Robot suit was Chance Shirley in his only official appearance in front of the camera.  Chance is best known for his writing and directing work on both his own film, the mid-level bureaucratic office workers on Mars horror comedy Interplanetary, and the two marvelous zombie comedies he made with co-director Chuck Hartsell, Hide and Creep and For a Few Zombies More.  I’m always glad to see more from him, although, of course, even his mother wouldn’t recognize him in this one.  Mind you, I hope that he isn’t so busy playing robots that it’ll take us another fourteen years for the next Hide and Creep sequel!

There’s a lot of good stuff in this one.  It is a polished, professional production and it only occasionally lets the team down on the minor details (perhaps the most notable being the plastic forms covering many of the interior walls, which actually are quite interesting to look at, until we see the raw edges in a few of the shots and realize that they are just plastic forms mounted on the wall, and do not look like they would have any real purpose).  But these are minor quibbles that really don’t take much away from the film.

I only wish that more low budget SF films were this well made.

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