Artificial intelligence is all the rage right now. For some (me), it’s a topic that is quite literally enraging. Will it replace creatives? Blue collar workers? Humanity itself? We can’t know for sure, but that isn’t stopping money-grubbing corporations from implementing A.I. as quickly as possible to save a few bucks. There’s a lot at stake. People have a right to be fearful of what it could all mean for our future…a fear that director Spencer Brown’s debut feature, T.I.M., reduces down to a silly concept with a predictable structure as dull and robotic as the title character.
Budding horror star, Georgina Campbell (Barbarian, Bird Box: Barcelona), plays Abi, a prosthetics engineer who has just moved to a new house in the countryside with her husband, Paul (Mark Rowley), set to begin her job at Integrate Robotics. This is a new start for she and him after a recent affair of his that has stirred up trust issues. But when Abi is gifted a T.I.M. (Technologically Integrated Man-servant)—the same product she’s been hired to get ready for launch—the android takes a liking to her…and it will stop at nothing to have her.
Part sci-fi horror, part domestic thriller, T.I.M. plays out like a reverse The Hand that Rocks the Cradle with a robot. Rather than the all-too common trope of the wife who no one believes when she claims a sexy housemaid is trying to steal her family, Brown and Sarah Govett’s script places Paul in the role of fearful house husband whom Abi ignores to both their detriments. It’s a refreshing gender-swap that allows the filmmakers to poke fun at modern guys like Paul, the obnoxious type who whine about not feeling like men anymore because they are not the provider. More importantly, though, the film uses his character to tap into the paranoia that has caused many of us to wonder if we may be replaced by A.I. as well. The more the “man-servant” does for Abi, the more he feels inferior to the hunk of metal and begins to lose himself.
On the other side of this odd triangle is Abi, a woman with little doubt in technology yet critical of her husband (for good reason). Whatever Paul fails at, such as cooking or showing an interest in what she likes, T.I.M. (Eamon Farren) is there to make her feel appreciated. As Abi’s boss, Dewson (Nathaniel Parker) claims, “I will take lines of code over wedding vows any day”. The idea being that people are “messy”, whereas A.I. is “perfect”. Yeah, sure, and I’m Stephen King. T.I.M. acts as a counter to this idea by expressing the various dangers that come with artificial intelligence left in full control. Automated vehicles…deep fake technology…smart homes…the filmmakers delve into the unease of all of it. T.I.M. himself even arrives in an obsidian black box that recalls the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a symbolic representation of a frightening new frontier. Certain elements such as the smart home are under-incorporated, while others merely replicate what’s come before in better outings such as M3GAN or Ex-Machina, but it would be unfair to say that the film doesn’t, at the very least, pose some uncomfortable questions that may scare you more than what’s on screen.
While Farren does an exceptional job of playing creepy, T.I.M. offers up few thrills and chills on its way to an underwhelming conclusion. Much of the runtime is spent establishing the eeriness of having something like T.I.M. sitting around as both a silent observer and holder of your most personal secrets. His obsession with Abi verges into absurdity, while also pointing out how many of us think we want a partner that knows everything about us, often realizing too late how seriously unnerving that can be. While uncomfortable and strange, the silliness of the premise undercuts the serious nature of the horror, causing it to struggle in translating these ideas into a tangible anxiety on screen. Long moments of T.I.M. gazing at Abi or speaking in her voice to order over the phone only do so much to carry the audience through a script that hits every beat of your standard domestic thriller, one that feels hesitant to lean further into the weird territory it introduces.
Though competent in execution, between a subplot about Abi and Paul trying to have a child that goes nowhere, underused elements such as the smart-home and a strange premise that comes off as restrained when it should go hard on the weird of it all, T.I.M. doesn’t stand out much when compared to its A.I. horror peers. But the ideas posed here aren’t any less discomforting when you sit back to consider them. Perhaps one reason Brown’s film feels more mundane than what’s come in the past is because the future it poses could only be weeks away. T.I.M. isn’t an ominous warning about what could happen. It’s already here. And that is truly terrifying.
T.I.M. is now on VOD from Brainstorm Media.
By Matt Konopka