BLOOD IN THE SNOW FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The greatest strength of Robert Cuffley’s ROMI is its social poignancy. It taps into a burgeoning movement of films that focus on rogue technology, specifically the danger of AI assistants. Utilizing an ultramodern visual identity, Cuffley compellingly merges the tone of a murder mystery with the horror of a malevolent AI. However, despite its thematic strengths, the film has a series of pacing and narrative issues that hold it back from genuine cult status.
ROMI follows the 23-year-old Maddi (Alexa Barajas), an aimless young woman whose parents’ political connections are enabling her going-nowhere life. After fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run, Maddie is forced to hide from the authorities in an isolated smart home powered by a state-of-the-art AI named Romi. But it is only upon Maddie’s arrival at the house that she realizes Romi isn’t working as intended.
The film is confined almost entirely to the inside of the smart house, creating a tangible sense of not just claustrophobia but cyclical imprisonment. Cuffley quickly and expertly maps the interior of the house for the viewer, making it feel familiar. He also establishes a sleek aesthetic sensibility, which is cleverly reminiscent of modern smartphones. Inside of these parameters, Cuffley plays with the cinematography in a variety of interesting ways. He often frames his shots to be off-centre, includes darkened passages, or divides the screen between Maddie and an empty room, hinting wonderfully at a sinister presence while also injecting tension into otherwise normal moments.
“…forced to hide from the authorities in an isolated smart home powered by a state-of-the-art AI named Romi.”
The leading actress also gives a striking performance, acting alone for long stretches and giving an increasingly unhinged performance. Solid supporting performances from the remainder of the cast round this out. Each character also brings a discernible point of view to the idea of ROMI as a personality unto itself. As these characters come and go from the house, carrying with them respite or tension, they allow the film a fascinating theatrical quality.
Where ROMI falls short, however, is in its underutilization of these characters and the story. Susie Moloney’s script is quietly generic. While each character is unique, their interactions with each other follow specific, repeated patterns. This creates a sense of redundancy that causes the middle act of the film to lag. Although there is an interesting conceit at the core of ROMI’s narrative, it is poorly explored. There is also a veiled social commentary present in the film, but it, too, is lazily navigated. These issues are emphasized by a climax that, while surprising, is as tiring as it is convenient.
While these criticisms do not make ROMI obsolete viewing, they hamper what could have been a memorable slice of genre cinema. ROMI lacks the vital charge of novelty that horror films require to become fully realized. While the film certainly has some enthrallingly tense moments, the mystery that Cuffley so masterfully conjures does not have an equally as gripping payoff. Ultimately, ROMI feels all too familiar—it is just another ghost story, simply sporting a technological skin.
"…...just another ghost story..."