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Review: Automatons

The film’s battles soar to trippy and novel heights of DIY experimental filmmaking that feel anything but old.

Photo: Glass Eye Pix

James Felix McKenney’s sci-fi fever dream Automatons should have dissed its narrative segments for a full avant-garde assault of robot-on-robot and robot-on-human violence. In a dystopic tomorrowland, The Girl (Christine Spencer), one of the last surviving members of the human race, works at programming robots that are repeatedly commanded to kill her by The Enemy Leader (Brenda Cooney). Suggesting black-and-white surveillance video from the set of The Day the Earth Stood Still, the film—executive produced by Larry Fessenden and assistant directed by one of Slant’s staff critics—filters political commentary into its story through transmissions from The Scientist (Angus Scrimm), whose effect on The Girl’s consciousness (and ours) constitutes a form of torture. Try to phase out the redundant and uninspired political discourse and focus only on the sporadic bursts of robot aggression, which McKenney shoots at gloriously odd, jumpy angles. Though McKenney is a nostalgia wanker, his battles—pulled off, it appears, with a combination of toys and production people inside huge robot suits, with an assortment of cut-outs and drawings on the film’s print to evoke the constant barrage of ammo—soar to trippy and novel heights of DIY experimental filmmaking that feel anything but old. As for the robot-on-human battles, the grue that pushed by the film might make Tom Savani blush.

Cast: Christine Spencer, Brenda Cooney, Angus Scrimm, Noah DeFilippis, Don Wood, John Anthony Blake, Jennifer Boutell, Don Wood, Benjamin Hugh Abel Forster, Matt Huffman, Michael Vincent, Matt Huffman, Larry Fessenden Director: James Felix McKenney Screenwriter: James Felix McKenney Running Time: 83 min Rating: NR Year: 2006 Buy: Video

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