Mr. (Killo) Roboto

At Automation’s core is a relevant battle between blue collar workers and Silicon Valley elites. It’s not a hidden theme – that’s literally Automation’s story, pitting laid off insulation employees against the robot meant to replace them.

There’s genuine, real world fear in Automation. Futurist or not, the bit parts compress the expected personalities. One laid off worker stands up for his job, refusing a severance that requires training his replacement. Others relent, accepting a pay cut to stay on the payroll. Still more slink into the background, making peace with the circumstances because reality is around them – drones on patrol and a skyline drawing closer to Blade Runner. The fight was lost before their layoffs.

Automation succeeds insofar as generating capable terror

Automation offers some sardonic, dark humor. It’s not so much the company will replace nearly their entire human staff with a machine, rather the announcement comes at Christmas and everyone is still invited to the office Christmas party. The capitalist skewering is elevated by Sadie Katz, a sniveling profit-over-people archetype who embraces an utterly inhuman persona, oblivious to any impact her decisions will have. “We owe nothing to our workers,” she spouts, creating an immediately detestable villain.

It’s slow going, building empathy for the ‘bot Auto and star Elissa Dowling. Small backstory is delivered in droplets, thematically linking the country’s military obsession to the consumer sector. That provides action too, something to break up the lengthy dialog and chatter. The build-up serves a capable horror/sci-fi finale, Auto going rogue because no one acknowledges his growing sentience. Insert bloody mayhem, references to other genre films, and some genuine tension given Auto’s obvious instability.

On a micro budget, Automation succeeds insofar as generating capable terror. Once loose, Auto’s rampage claims multiple victims, yet since he shares the same callousness as Katz, a dead employee or two isn’t anything to get worked up over; hide the bodies and no one will know. Those morbid laughs never stick out as explicit, and Automation doesn’t totally engage with its satirical side. It’s often played too straight, lacking a memorable personality. Those awaiting the killing spree won’t see the splatter either, at least not to any great degree.

A strong idea, if limited in execution.

Video

Fantastic encoding keeps a grip on the grain filter. Even as the digitally-shot images turn to their noisiest, there’s no sign compression is adding artifacts.

Automation uses intense contrast, at times running hot, but controlled. Black levels do tend to crush, a little too often, especially with Auto and his dark abdomen area. Overall dimension loses little as a result however, splendidly rich and bulky.

Same goes for detail, laid on thick. Facial texture swells without fault, remarkably consistent. To a fault, it’s easy to see the foam making up Auto’s suit given the striking resolution. CG backdrops as the camera soaks in wide shots limit nothing, still resolved to a precise tier.

Mostly rich color doesn’t subside until the finale uses low light blues and warning light reds, keeping everything saturated. Stellar primaries and accurate flesh tones settle in quickly.

Audio

Dolby Digital shows up in two forms, stereo and 5.1. May as well choose the latter. It’s not much and limited in spatial effects, but does liven up some flashback war sequences. A little directionality brings needed space.

LFE brings small touches to an explosion and Auto’s laser shots, if not much. Range is fairly small. Also, being budget conscious, a couple lines of dialog come off as scratchy. Minor, but worth noting.

Extras

Director/producer/co-writer Garo Setian joins two different commentary tracks. The first is with co-writer Rolfe Kanefsky, the second alongside producers Dan Bowen and Anahit Setian. Deleted and alternate scenes offer optional commentary too. A fun blooper reel is worth spending the full five minutes with. Next is a 29-minute featurette, loaded with interviews, those then expanded in full via eight separate segments elsewhere on the disc.

Keep going for insight into the screenplay, a look at how the Auto suit came together, and an additional interview with Auto’s voice actor, Jim Tasker.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Automation
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

Using a killer robot movie’s framework, Automation uses that to explore real world fears over lost jobs and a changing workplace.

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