The premise of TAU is a simple one. We open with urban nightlife and meet a mysterious young woman living a life of crime. Saving up her money in order to progress in life. After, for no apparent reason, she is kidnapped and awakes to find herself prisoner to an unknown man kept hidden in the shadows. Soon we meet TAU, the title character. An artificial intelligence that is essentially the brain of the house Julia is being held in. Through this character, the film carries its best elements. Ones of compassion, complexity, and learning. Unfortunately, the film takes its sweet time getting there and throughout has average at best execution.
Federico D’Alessandro’s first feature effort is fully committed to its atmosphere. From the urban start to the modern smart home Julia, played by Maika Monroe, is held captive in the film’s neo-noir style is consistent. Cinematographer Larry Smith’s lighting is one of its traits. It was a bit too much for my taste to begin with but as the film progressed and locations changed it began to make sense in its ability to provide a smothered feel with no natural light. Only saturated beams of red and yellow. It wasn’t until the end where we finally see daylight again that I noticed how much I had missed it. The score is another layer on this cake. At times it will go totally unnoticed but it occasionally shines through which I appreciated. The film by nature is very monotone and slightly repetitive in its attempts to push the story forward so anything to add a little colour to the proceedings goes down quite well.
One of my biggest issues with TAU is that Julia was given no breathing room at the start. We are given very fast exposition that may as well not of even been there. When you’ve known a character for such little time seeing quick childhood flashbacks isn’t going to make you care. Monroe does well despite this and eventually finds her groove and becomes quite charming. I’ve been a fan since It Follows and hopes she finds her way to better projects.
“They gave me life, but I did the rest. I created me.”
On a positive note, the film does contain some unexpected content. It actually gave me some Resident Evil nostalgia in its use of murderous A.I. The film also has tones of a lot of other science-fiction flicks. Never so much that it can really be compared but just in little instances. I got rings of Ex Machina and even Saw at the beginning, but the film kept changing itself and evolving (for worse or for better - I’m not so sure) which kept it from committing to a singular thread which actually worked for me. I didn’t care about the characters as much as I would have liked to so the life-threatening aspects of the film and its venture into the ‘can a machine really be a person?’ debate were what kept me watching. I wasn’t exactly glued to the screen but there was something quite delightful for me in the campiness of the clichés and superficial dialogue.
The big bad is the villain from Deadpool, that’s all I’ll say about that. I much preferred him as a faceless entity that added to the mystery and fear instead of a badly written character that had no redeeming qualities other than being well dressed. Things were done to try to make him hold some sort of power on-screen but in my opinion, they just didn’t work and he was not at all the intimidating presence he could have been; which might have been on purpose but I can’t be sure. I don’t like to speak negatively about performances too often, because I don’t feel I can offer anything constructive. A bad performance is just a bad performance - but I find Ed Skrein to be wholly unconvincing as an under-pressure businessman.
Attempts are made to lure us in with his research and the development of the psychological warfare between captor and captée but the script is simply not sophisticated enough to pull it off with any nuance or tension. After you expect it to be about that dynamic the film again changes focus, this time to the complexity of A.I. Now this, I can get behind. The film just takes too much time getting there. I felt for the first time as if I was actually watching something interesting that had things to say. If this line of thinking had been clear and we didn’t waste time with a botched escape and introducing characters that weren’t really needed then the film might have been able to expand on this even more so with some extra time. I certainly wouldn’t want a longer runtime for TAU, but I think some things could have easily been cut without losing anything significant.
Other than small moments of inspiration TAU fails to be what it could have been or what I would have liked it to be, a thrilling escape film. As soon as TAU begins its nature of repeated attempts to break free and time spent with its only two real characters it starts to rely on them carrying it. They’re not at strong enough to do that, only by a small margin, but still. Federico D’Alessandro is no stranger to the industry and I have to say even though this film is lacking a bit of personality and refinement it does have some good ideas going for it. Compared with some of Netflix’s recent ventures, it holds up well enough. I’m interested to see where D’Alessandro goes from here because from this I imagine he has potential as a director.