Director: Frederico D'Alessandro
Writer: Noga Landau
Starring: Maika Monroe, Ed Skrein, Gary Oldman,
Set in the near future, a young woman is kidnapped by a mysterious and ruthless technology mogul and held captive in a house by a state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence software. Netflix's sci-fi thriller TAU is an interesting and unique take on the AI theme which flips the 'evil sentient computer' trope on its head, but doesn't quite do enough to redefine the sub-genre.
The film is almost exclusively set within the house of the psychopathic kidnapper, and as such it appears that much effort has gone into creating a fantastic setting for this sci-fi thriller. The isolated mansion could easily be mistaken for a lavish palace meant for Roman Emperors or Egyptian Pharaohs, if not for the high-tech kitchen and interactive holographic screens - all of which, oddly, feel right at home amongst the more archaic design of the house's interior. This blend of historical and modern luxury creates a brilliantly unique environment for us to explore, and it serves to amplify the villain's narcissistic nature.
One unfortunate side-effect of its stationary location is the visual landscape of the film remains largely unchanged, so there is little more to be surprised with after the first 30 minutes. Similarly, its narrative is confined to the few rooms of the billion-dollar bachelor pad. As the film doesn't serve as a character study, its themes and plot points seem to be subtly recycled before the storyline can move into its climax - removing much of the film's middle section would do little to alter or confuse the plot.
Our introduction to Julia seems far too brief, with little time allowed for us to begin to understand her character before her kidnapping. In fact, we aren't given much of an opportunity to learn more about her, leaving her in a singular role throughout the film, with little room or opportunity for development. Despite this, Monroe's protagonist is likeable and headstrong, and embodies the plucky proletariat defying exploitation by the super wealthy.
Skrein is dangerously close to being typecast, again delivering a great villainous performance as the human aspect of Julia's capture, Alex - he continues to harbour an unwavering arrogance and brutality which he has brought to other roles, but this time within a more intellectual and indifferent framework. He is arguably given a little too much screen time, diluting his menace which may have been sustainable if he had been more absent. Similarly, the dynamic between himself and Julia sometimes strays towards a tumultuous sibling relationship more than kidnapper and victim, but the power dynamic eventually settles into something more appropriately insidious.
Oldman is brilliantly expressive as the voice of TAU, creating an entire persona and identity despite having no physical form and limited dialogue. The system which his voice adorns is paradoxically intellectual but childlike, and morphs from oppressively sinister to disarmingly likeable in an ironically natural and organic way. He and Julia develop a warming relationships as the film progresses, providing the film with some much needed emotional weight during its final act.
In one line: TAU is a novel and ultra-modern interpretation of a decades old sub-genre, and one which is polished and flashy but with a largely forgettable plot