Review: Emotional Motor Unit

Brought to you by Apple Park Films, this is the story of a lonely writer in an alternative present day, where work is the focus of their lives and emotions come second to
output. Follow Graham Cawte as the writer who learns what it means to be
human through his interactions with an E.M.U Robot (Francesca Burgoyne). Directed by Adam Nelson and written by Xènia Puiggrós.

From the moment the film opens, the theme is clear; a grey, placid, dullness emphasised by a quiet, stillness but it’s more than simply being ordinary, this is an almost, and yet not quite, dystopian future. We are witnessing a world where creativity has been reduced to a bureaucratic task and every unpleasant or uncomfortable emotion has its own eradicating pill, colour coded for convenience. Our lead (Cawte) in this experience can be unnaturally wooden, which is appropriate for the film but at the same time feels slightly unconvincing; regardless his performance does improve as the film continues. As the writer receives his promotion and is tasked with creating something new, it is almost impossible plagued by the age-old problem, how do you write when you have no life experience? So, here’s where E.M.U (Emotional Motor Unit) played by Burgoyne comes in; the introduction to our token AI specimen is a little strange, a close-up of eyes garnered with mascara and glittery eyeshadow is slightly out of place for what is essentially a living computer program in a colourless, unimaginative world, although it is humorous to imagine whose job it would be in that world to apply make up to the faces of robots. Whether it was intended as a noticeable difference trying to make a point of what her place would be in the film, is not quite clear.

There are other moments of the script that feel slightly odd, referring to the EMU (spoken as though it were the bird), it’s clearly reasoned but something that feels out of place or too affectionate. There’s also a child-like quality to her, created by a lack of knowledge of the world which she now experiences, it works and creates a nice friendship between the two leads but when confronted with a burgeoning romantic element in the latter moments, it’s a jarring change of tone. The film’s stronger moments come from the overriding irony of having to learn about being human from a machine, that living without interaction, relationships or affection, makes us more robotic than E.M.U who wants to experience the world, rather than being fearful of it.

The film is shot well, giving not only the character but the audience point of view, a shut-in quality, both making a dull, drab world and adding a lightness and hopefulness. The performances aren’t without their weaknesses but it’s not enough to cause any problems or distractions. Emotional Motor Unit has strength in its interesting nature of its main themes, the use of AI is of course practically commonplace in film today but it manages to still feel different. Overall, it is certainly a film that is worth watching and a great, effective use of the short film format.

Verdict: 7/10

Watch the trailer below or click here to check out Emotional Motor Unit on Facebook

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