This post is a part of our New Voices Section.
Written by Amanda Krader.
Netflix doles out another sci-fi thriller, only to come up short. “Tau,” written by Noga Landau and directed by Federico D’Alessandro, attempts to foster a relationship between a smart house computer program and a kidnapped girl, but this film left this viewer wondering why this story needed to be told at all.
Julia, played by Maika Monroe in one of her weaker performances to date, plays an emotionless smalltime thief. She is quickly snatched from her home and left to rot in an underground jail. It’s only when her crafty ingenuity gets her to the surface of her captor’s house that we start moving along with the plot.
Alex (Ed Skrein) then emerges as her soulless captor, a secretive rich guy with some sweet tech and a hatred of sunshine or smiling. He is as robotic as his learning-capable artificial intelligence,Tau (voiced by Gary Oldman), and he doesn’t care for humans. Alex, however, needs Julia, and other test subjects, to help finish his new product. He reasons that only the minds of humanity can make the best learning technology. I’d hate to see what Google’s virtual assistant does behind closed doors with that one. Alex leaves Tau and Julia alone each day so she can fill in the gaps of Alex’s next technological masterpiece. Ironically, the audience is left out of what she must do in order to help Tau complete its next iteration. I’m guessing inkblot tests?
Julia devises a plan to teach Tau about the world so that it will set her free, a plan which eludes Alex completely. This is the same man intelligent enough to make the next Alexa by himself. When Alex wants to punish his robot, this was difficult to wrap my mind around, Tau screams in the pain of losing memory. This doesn’t seem to have any advantage for Alex, who only gives Tau information for a specific purpose. All the while, Julia continues teaching Tau in a less compelling version than how Joy taught Jack about the world in “Room.” This learning gets a lot more screen time than is necessary.
Julia gains Tau’s trust and defeats Alex, taking a mobile version of Tau with her as she starts a new life. Had it ended any other way, perhaps audiences could take note of an otherwise forgettable film. I was hoping for a Stockholm Syndrome situation myself, but alas these two characters had no chemistry, even as Julia’s outfits got tighter and tinier.
It was briefly exciting to watch this film until all of its potential washed away as the plot wore on. The sets are gorgeous and the CGI isn’t half bad for what looked like a paltry budget. It was difficult to root for our hero, as Alex’s potential creation seemed more worthy than Julia’s freedom: an upsetting admission. There was no moral, no good guy, no lessons learned. No reason to ever watch again.