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By Bobby LePire | December 22, 2021

Automation is one of those films set during the holiday season but isn’t a Christmas movie. Written by Rolfe Kanefsky, Matthew L. Schaffer, and director Garo Setian, the science fiction thriller is set in an office just before the Christmas party. Big boss Bill (Jeff Rector) is very torn about the need to cut 90% of the current workforce, only to have them replaced by automatons. On the other hand, Susan (Sadie Katz) is thrilled that the company is finally turning a profit.

While the news is not the biggest surprise, several employees are still shocked or frustrated at being let go. Contractor Jenny (Elissa Dowling) is both annoyed and happy, as she’s being given a full-time position, though it comes with a steep price cut. Jenny’s getting this because of her close working relationship with the prototype robot worker, Auto (Jeff J. Knight and Jim Tasker). But, to her horror, she discovers that Auto’s creator, Alan (Parry Shen), will replace him with newer, more efficient versions.

Unfortunately, Auto finds this out as well. The news causes him to malfunction, and Auto inadvertently kills his co-workers. Then it morphs into not so inadvertently. Is anyone safe from the robot’s mayhem? For that matter, is anyone safe from corporate greed?

Automation suffers from a severe tone issue. Setian never seems sure whether this is meant to be a full-blown send-up of callous company culture or focus on the automaton-gone-awry thriller aspect. As such, the more humorous moments, such as Susan’s excitement over getting more robots, clash with the more serious scenes. This means there’s no real atmosphere, so the film never fully envelopes audience members. These elements are just layered on top of each other, never integrated, so it takes a while for momentum to really develop.

“…causes him to malfunction, and Auto inadvertently kills his co-workers.”

But, overall, the story does work. For starters, the relationship between Auto and Jenny works really well. This is partially due to how good the actors are together. Dowling especially carries much of the film, as she gives a charismatic performance that bolsters the weaker parts of the script. Knight imbues the robot’s mannerisms with shocking humanity, despite the intentional artificiality of the character. Tasker makes Auto’s voice very calming, even during the more horrific acts of violence.

These two lead performances are supported by the minor players as well. Shen is great as Alan, giving his brief runtime a lot of staying power and empathy. Katz is hilarious, and her relationship with Bill works quite well.

Automation hones in on how poorly even talented workers are treated in the name of the almighty dollar. Despite being a few years old now, the production feels timely as ever. The frustrations of the people getting laid off feel authentic, and it adds a layer of pathos to the more effective sequences of Auto’s rampage.

Automation is tonally confused and slightly awkward to watch because of that. However, the cast is uniformly strong, and the themes the screenwriters explore have universal people. Add in the solid thriller-action scenes, and you get a film that is worth watching once.

To find out more about Automation, go to its Facebook page.

Automation (2019)

Directed: Garo Setian

Written: Rolfe Kanefsky, Matthew L. Schaffer, Garo Setian

Starring: Elissa Dowling, Jeff J. Knight, Jim Tasker, Parry Shen, Sadie Katz, Jeff Rector, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Automation Image

"…Dowling especially carries much of the film..."

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