“It Lives It Lives It Lives It Lives It Lives It Lives It Lives It Lives It Lives It Lives It Lives It Lives”, the final ominous text displayed to caretaker Roy (Andrew Kinsler) from Arthur – Plethura bunker’s omnipresent AI.
Roy is a caretaker, charged with ensuring that the fallout shelter dubbed ‘Plethura’ is ready for ‘priority one’ (mankind’s surviving elite) when the signal is given. The world above is teetering on the end, and we join Roy at ‘two-minutes to midnight’ – the term used to describe an impending nuclear strike.
Roy is all alone deep underground, save for the AI companion who in turn is tasked with ensuring he follows protocol to the letter. Its an odd relationship, symbiotic to a point, but ultimately Roy doesn’t have a great deal to gain by doing his job to the standard expected of him, as, when the time comes, ‘Priority One’ ride the elevator down to salvation, Roy exchanges places with them and rides the elevator back up to face annihilation; as a result Arthur is more the face of the ‘corporation’ than a friend, and needless to say Roy has a something of a chip on his shoulder.
However, despite the meticulous planning, mankind is destroyed before any exchange of personnel can occur and our story follows Roy in the days that follow as he struggles to retain sanity without a purpose, and with only the AI for company. That said, is he alone?
So, the film straddles a number of genres from sci-fi to mystery with some horror elements. Its essentially a one man show with Kinsler occupying 99% of the screen time, the only dialogue exchanged with Arthur’s green text and blinking cursor. Typically, this is the sort of movie which I would not necessarily be opting to view outside of my BTG obligations, but there was something about both the plot and trailer which drew me in.
First off, it is never boring – despite the limitations of its single cast member and equally limiting environments. Every technical element of the film is well above the typical indie-average, the camera work and picture grading is exceptional bringing an otherwise lifeless set of elongated steel sections corridors to life. The sound design, possibly the strongest part of the experience, creates atmosphere and tension which far exceeds the confines of the films premise. The film is not a straight up horror, but when the film wants to, it’s pretty damn creepy. There is not a single antagonist – and to say too much more would risk spoilers – but more that the environment and breakdown of Roy’s mental state allow for some typical horror hallucinations and jumpy encounters.
Kinsler’s portrayal of ‘Roy’ takes time to get into. By design Roy is (perhaps understandably) a bit of an arsehole. He’s pessimistic before anything goes wrong, and when things do he seems to go against the conventional role of ‘stepping it up’; if anything, he seems to get more petulant and combative. So much so, I will be honest, whilst I wanted to see how fate treated him, I didn’t really mind if he made it so to speak! An interesting writing choice, especially with no other characters to balance his persona with, but a gamble which I feel pays off as his moody outlook only adds gravitas to the miserable existence he finds himself and indeed the outlook for humanity. Hats off to Kinsler, he certainly provides a consistency to the role, however you view his character.
When the film isn’t offering up chills things turn more to the realms of psychological thriller, exploring a number of ‘big’ questions such as man’s need for destruction, what differentiates life from AI? What drives out most basics of hope and fears? This I found to be the weakest element of the film as, despite doing a fair job at what it sets out to achieve, it doesn’t really offer up any new direction and there are countless other films which explore familiar territory. The ending also, vague to say the least, rather frustratingly opens more questions as opposed to satisfying the viewer curiosity. None of this is deal breaking, but with a better ending the film could have really become an even easier recommendation.
Overall, if the trailer peaks your interest, and you are down for a one man show, I would recommend you check out ‘It Lives’. Despite the films vague ending, the experience before it was tense and immersive. ‘It Lives’ is a brave debut for writer/director Richard Mundy and a credit to him and his team for what they put together here. I look forward to seeing what his next output delivers.