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  • Rev Horror


Dir. James Croke (2024)

An agoraphobic professional gamer receives a new piece of technology that improves her skills by linking her consciousness to the outside world.

Technohorror has a long history, but it is a genre that is much more commonly explored during times of great change. Going back to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which is essentially about man's attempts to play God using the latest in technological and scientific advancements, horror writers and creators have been playing around with the idea that our own creations may turn against us. Movies like The Terminator, The Fly, and even The Matrix have opened people's eyes to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, that new gizmo you're jonesing for will ultimately be your undoing. There is no new technology more daunting, however, or more likely to cause the eventual collapse of everything we know and love than artificial intelligence and science's attempts to neurally link our computers to our own brains. Latency, the new film from Lionsgate, deals with exactly that, and while it gets a lot right about what we should be scared of, it has some struggles that limit its impact on its audience.

Hana (Sasha Luss) is a professional gamer who is stuck in her apartment because of her intense agoraphobia. She's scared to even open the door, forcing delivery men to leave documents for her sign on her doorstep and going away before she opens the door. She receives a tester device for a new product called Omnia, an artificial intelligence that she wears around her head that links into her brain to increase the response time and neural link between her thoughts and the technology that she controls. When Hana realizes this could potentially improve her gaming, she and her friend Jen (Alexis Ren) use the improvement to make her one of the best gamers in the world. Naturally, there are consequences for her hubris, and Hana begins to question whether she's controlling the game, or if the game is controlling her.

Latency is ultimately unable to overcome a slow plot by giving its audience enough to fear in the moments where it attempts to scare. It's a fascinating premise, though not one that you haven't seen before. Part Lawnmower Man and part Oculus Rift, Latency is a film about a cutting edge technology that is hardly a distant future: Elon Musk's Neuralink is attempting to do much the same thing as the product in this film, apparently with similar results. Of course, the concept of a "ghost in the machine" is not new, either. Even Gremlins deals with a similar legend, albeit in a much more physical manifestation. Regardless of the idea's novelty, it's still an intriguing one to explore had the film managed to make it interesting.

Unfortunately, that's largely where the movie struggles. The actors are decent enough, as this is basically a two-woman show. Luss does a great job with her character, a deeply troubled woman whose past is only whispered rather than explored completely, and she probably would have been a more compelling character had the role had a little more depth. Ren's best friend archetype is good as well, and quite possibly a better all-around role than Luss'. In a film with just two actors, however, there simply has to be more to it than this. Things begin to go badly, sure, but we're never given even an inkling as to why, and even when it does go off the rails, it doesn't go far enough to elicit much more than a yawn or general bewilderment.

Latency is a frustrating film because it feels like all of the pieces are there. The AI is sufficiently ominous and creepy, with an effective female voiceover that always seems to herald naughty technology. The initialization sequence, which progresses from Luss' character having to type one letter at a time to cutting herself so that the machine sees what it's like for her to feel pain, is a portent of terrible things to come, and it's handled very well in the film. The lurking threat that the ghosts in the machine have escaped into the outside world is also interestingly done, especially because Hana is largely trapped inside with them like the audience is. At the end of the day, though, there's just not enough done with what the film gets right to fix its wrongs.

IMDb says that Latency originally got an R rating and made some cuts to get down to PG-13, and it certainly feels it. Most of the haunts within are cheap jumpscares, digitally enhanced in an unnecessary way that feels very early-2000's. The evil device at the center of the story is largely not explained, and though there's a hint of "is this evil robots or dangerous mental illness," there's not enough of an answer for the audience to determine either way. The film does a great job with the isolationist horror aspect, and while we don't know why Hana can't leave the house, we feel the walls closing in as the scenery shifts back and forth between decent and decrepit. Unfortunately, without that "why," the audience is left to ask what. As in, what the hell was the point of all this?

Who this movie is for: Technohorror buffs, Modern horror fans, Siri

Bottom line: Latency had all of the potential in the world but ultimately falls short of becoming more than a forgettable teen horror. The concept of the evil AI inhabiting a new piece of gaming technology is an interesting one, although it's hardly new to the genre, and the performances from the two actors on screen are good enough to carry the film through if it had something to say. Unfortunately, it largely doesn't, and what little it teases it never fully resolves. I'm a big fan of Lionsgate, and their releases are much more likely to hit than miss, but this was one of the few fails for me. This one is coming to theaters on June 14th, so you can check it out for yourself.

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