An Unremarkable, Unoriginal Sci-Fi Thriller
Netflix’s continued streak of passable sci-fi continues with Tau, a film that takes some of the core ideas from successful films tackling artificial intelligence and turns them into a forgettable thriller. Some of this can be blamed on the script which moves along at breakneck speed, ultimately damaging any sort of affiliation with our kidnapped protagonist Julia (Maika Monroe). There are a few nice ideas here and the evolution of Tau from obedient intelligence to morally confused rage is well paced for the most part but feels lackadaisical and sloppily produced in a film that fails to capture the essence of what makes these films so memorable to begin with.
No sooner has the title sequence finished, Julia is kidnapped in the middle of the night and held captive in a high security house under the watchful eye of an Artificial Intelligence callled Tau (Gary Oldman). As the film progresses and Julia becomes ever more desperate to leave the prison she finds herself trapped in, she launches a cleverly sprung trap to turn Tau against its creator (and Julia’s kidnapper) Alex (Ed Skrein) in a bid to escape from the house. While this all sounds very thrilling, Tau spends most of its time methodically dragging each scene along, slowly shifting from one dialogue heavy scene to the next, half-heartedly exploring the usual themes like humanity and consciousness you’d expect from a film like this.
The biggest problem with Tau is its lack of originality. There just isn’t anything inherently new or fresh here and the ideas that are brought forward have been done far more effectively by other films covering this topic. Ex Machina nails the trust and empathy elements to allow us to engage with Ava, 2001: A Space Odyssey manages to keep a consistently creepy theme throughout and various other films and TV shows in this genre manage to put a unique enough spin on the concept to avoid it from feeling stale. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Tau as it slowly plods from one cliched scene to the next for much of its 90 minute run time.
All of this is made worse by the pedestrian style of filming too. The lighting is a little inconsistent at times, jumping from reds and blues over to orange and greys with little in the way of care or attention to detail. The camera work is passable but again, there’s not really anything outstanding here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. Tau’s consciousness and interesting triangular design is about the only visually impressive element of the film but bears a lot of similarities to HAL from 2001, bar the trademark phrase that film has become synonymous with
How much enjoyment you’ll get out of Tau is entirely dependent on just how in-depth and original you’d expect a film like this to be. As a run-of-the-mill, brainless thriller Tau ticks all the boxes but fails to innovate beyond the confines of the genre itself. A lack of characterisation for Julie and an unoriginal story fail to garner enough empathy to make the final act worth the wait, making this another disappointing entry in the catalogue of Netflix sci-fi.