Automation (Horror Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: A malfunctioning, obsolete robot that works at an insulation company finds out it's about to be shut down and replaced, so it starts killing the people it sees as a threat to its existence.

REVIEW: The sci-fi thriller AUTOMATION (WATCH IT HERE) is the feature debut of writer/director/producer/editor Garo Setian, but he assembled a dream team of genre regulars around him to make sure this project would be as interesting and entertaining as possible. He wrote the screenplay with Matthew L. Schaffer and Rolfe Kanefsky, who includes the horror comedy classic THERE'S NOTHING OUT THERE among his many credits. Then he filled prominent roles with the likes of Elissa Dowling, Sadie Katz, Parry Shen, Graham Skipper, and Sarah French. Of course, the fact that Setian already had twenty-five years of experience making short films and editing also helped him pull off this impressive feat.

The story crafted by Setian, Schaffer, and Kanefsky centers on a robot called Auto, which was brought to life through some ROBOCOP-esque "man in suit" technology, with Jeff J. Knight doing excellent work with the robotic movements while Jim Tasker provides the perfect voice for the character. Not every bit of Auto looks completely convincing, but the suit does look cool and it's convincing enough that I was able to become emotionally invested in Auto. Originally designed for military use, Auto now works at an insulation company where his creator Alan (Shen) and company owner Susan (Katz) are planning to replace 90% of the work force with robots. They're also planning to replace Auto, who is now obsolete. It makes sense that Auto's days at the company are numbered, he's suffering from a dying battery and some memory problems (he keeps flashing back to his disastrous time in the military), but at the same time it's sad because this robot, which is able to learn from human behavior, has such kind, innocent interactions with the people around him. The character who interacts with Auto the most is office worker Jenny (Dowling), who dreams of being a professional singer. The robot is able to gain a semblance of humanity thanks to his conversations with Jenny, and it's really nice to watch these two bounce off of each other. Unfortunately, Jenny is the only person Auto is able to form a true bond with, which is why he's in danger of being destroyed instead of just retired. 

Auto reminded me of Johnny 5 from the SHORT CIRCUIT movies in the way he was so sweet and likeable… and just like Johnny 5 had to take drastic action to make sure he wouldn't be disassembled, Auto ends up taking drastic action to make sure he won't be shut down. Problem is, Auto is malfunctioning so badly at that point, while tapping into his military programming, that his attempts to save himself turn the movie into something of a slasher in the second half – and that's when I started thinking of CHOPPING MALL.

Automation Garo Setian Elissa Dowling

Set during a Christmas season in the near future, AUTOMATION finds the employees of Alert Insulation being notified that their jobs are over right before most of them will be going to the company Christmas party. The place clears out, leaving only a handful of people in the building, including the characters played by the actors mentioned above. And that's when Auto starts picking them off one-by-one. It takes a while for the movie to reach that point, some viewers may start to feel antsy waiting for the violence to begin, but the pay-off is worth the build-up and we get some good character moments along the way.

There are also some good special effects on display in the film. Although it was very clearly made on a low budget, Setian was still able to pull off things like a war scene with a flying, hi-tech attacker in it and shots of a city that include futuristic technology. The characters ride the streets in regular, modern cars, but there are strange flying vehicles in the sky above them. I have seen AUTOMATION draw comparison to early Full Moon movies, and the special effects definitely have that sort of charm to them.

Setian has said that the goal he and his collaborators had with this film was to tell a "timely story with characters the audience cares about", and they succeeded in that. I cared about Auto and Jenny and wanted things to go better for them. At the same time, once things fell apart for them I appreciated the violence and bloodshed. This is a movie that made me feel sad for a non-living character who kills people. That's a rare accomplishment.

If you've ever wanted to see what it would be like if Johnny 5 had been unhinged and homicidal, or if you ever wished CHOPPING MALL had let you develop an emotional attachment to the Killbots, AUTOMATION is the movie for you.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.