This gets some bonus points for not being precisely what you expect from a SyFy film about killer drones, but the fact that it signals its premise from the outset rather takes the edge off the slow exploration of a mystery that’s more puzzling to the protagonist than the audience. It’s still an interesting little picture, with an unusually spare, credible vision of a depopulated, coolly dystopian near future that highlights small details but doesn’t dwell on them.
Claudia (Cleopatra Coleman, who also scripted) and her older partner John (Craig muMs Grant) cruise through farm country in a self-drive car John insists on driving, working for Transitions – a euthanasia service catering sufferers from a spike in terminal illnesses among agricultural folk. Scorned by some clients’ relatives as ‘glorified murderers’ but accepted by others as a mercy at the end, Transitions is a credible business model – imposing a code of conduct around customers which overrides darker, more money-grubbing attitudes – but John has started worrying about the recent boom in their business. When something with a targeting system microwaves John, Claudia’s smooth boss Jason (Leo Fitzpatrick) – the married father of her unborn child – tearfully tells her that he self-transitioned, which means she gets his job and is stuck with a less sympathetic, less capable assistant (Fabienne Therese) who might also be spying on her. Picking up the strands of a mystery John was just going to tell her about before he was killed, Claudia returns to her patch and encounters several more paranoid, aggrieved locals (including value-for-money Beth Grant as a widowed lesbian beekeeper) and catches up to what was obvious from the start – that the much-mentioned Vastgrow Corporation, which has leased drone tech to the smallholders, is quietly killing off customers and taking their land for all the world like a high-tech version of the sort of cattle baron seen in 1950s westerns.
Much of the movie involves an accumulation of clues – it’s almost an advantage that the solution is obvious, since this means individual bits and bobs don’t have to be over-explained. However, the climax finds things defaulting to wild melodrama as Claudia and rustic rebel Isaiah (Shane Coffey) flee from drones tasked with microwaving their heads and interrupt a Vastgrow press conference where a single stray shot flips drone-force switches into killbot mode and delivers some old-fashioned exploding heads and mown-down minions before a montage that explains how this affects the company’s future prospects. The effects are small-scale but well-done, though the film could probably do with more (and more sinister) drones and less POV with targeting system footage to sell it as a thriller. Coleman piles a lot on her character – including the pregnancy – and gives her a visual transition from severe suits to pretty farmgirl dress, but Claudia still feels too distanced from the rest of the (mostly stock) characters to get caught up in her worries. In a small role, Craig muMs Grant makes much more of an impression. Its basic premise is reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s Runaway, but it also makes use of the Crichton technique of extrapolating believable everyday tech that’s still slightly irritating – thumbprint signatures, simplified menu vending machines (for ‘treats’), insistent SatNav, a home-use suicide kit complete with music selection – and making good guesses about how folk will actually respond to its proliferation. It has a nice, non-standard electronic score from genre specialist Woljciech Golczewski (Late Phases, We Are Still Here, Beyond the Gates). Directed by Matt Osterman.