Movie ReviewsTau – The Poor Man’s Ex Machina

Another week, another sci-fi Netflix release. It seems like the streaming giant has opted to continue with their philosophy of quantity over quality. Can Tau and the charisma of recent Oscar winner Gary Oldman change that?

Synopsis: Held captive in a futuristic smart house, a woman hopes to escape by befriending the A.I. program that controls the house. (Netflix)

Starring: Maika Monroe, Ed Skrein and Gary Oldman

Writer: Noga Landau

Director: Federico D’Alessandro

Rating: R (United States)

Running Time: 97mins


Well this was easy to guess from a mile away as yet another high concept sci-fi is unable to deliver on its interesting premise. The story follows Julia (Monroe) who finds herself trapped in the basement of the futuristic smart home of technology executive Alex (Skrein). Alex forces his captives to perform puzzles as the home’s A.I. Tau (voiced by Oldman) collects information to help create more intuitive artificial intelligence. As Julia goes through the motions to survive another day, she starts to communicate with Tau and see if she can convince him to help her escape.

Tau on paper is a futuristic version of Frankenstein with a dash of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a sprinkle of Ex Machina and the claustrophobic atmosphere of Cube. It sounds like an absolute winner that could tackle a ton of deep, thought-provoking themes like artificial intelligence and what it is to be human. Unfortunately it never quite makes it to that point. The story is a predictable, dragging, tensionless short film concept dressed in a feature film’s shoes. It creates this intricate futuristic world that could rival that of Blade Runner 2049, Total Recall or the recent Netflix releases Altered Carbon or Lost in Space. Instead it decides to avoid a big budget world and focus on the claustrophobic aspects of its story.

Unfortunately the tension and intensity that would be built in this atmosphere requires not only a good concept, but great actors to deliver some thrilling and engaging performances. Instead, the ensemble delivers a very bland and forgettable group of one-dimensional characters. Between Skrein’s mundane villain to Monroe’s emotionless protagonist, there is just nothing promising about these characters. The only bright spot is the calm, inquisitive voice of Oldman, but a voice alone cannot make up for subpar acting.

Admittedly, this film has a lot of cool technology on display in this smart home. From the communication, the integration of Tau into the house and the other touchscreen elements it looks like a pretty cool and grounded future. That is until the film introduces some terrible CGI robots that look like they were dropped into the shots with no attempt to blend them naturally into the scene. That CGI alone made it hard to get through this film because it was below average even for Netflix standards.

Overall, Tau is an underwhelming sci-fi drama that fails to deliver on its ambitious themes. While the technology is cool and Gary Oldman gives a good performance, the dull characters, low quality CGI and terribly executed story make this film always the second choice when compared to other films that follow a similar concept. It was a bit difficult to get through even with Gary Oldman’s voice guiding the way.

Score: 3/10

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