Dir. George Henry Horton (2024)
Two men take shelter in an abandoned facility run by a malicious artificial intelligence after a botched robbery.
Artificial intelligence is the new boogeyman, scaring everyone from horror movie audiences to the actors who try to make a living by starring in them. The new union contracts sought to fight off the advance of the job stealing software, and scriptwriters the world over have been attempting to make the AI itself as the bad guys in their films. There are some truly brilliant takes on the topic out there, with films like Westworld, Blade Runner, and Ex Machina dealing with the topic well before people were even aware of its existence. Even films like M3GAN, which take a more lighthearted approach to the concept of out of control artificial intelligence, have brought fresh ideas about our new cybernetic overlords. Project Dorothy, the new film from writer/director George Henry Horton, attempts to work with this same subject to create a taut thriller and, unfortunately, largely fails to do so.
James (Tim DeZarn, The Cabin in the Woods) and Blake (Adam Budron, Wild Indian) are two thieves who find themselves hiding out in an abandoned research facility after a botched robbery. Things are not as docile as they appear, however, as the facility is run by a rogue artificial intelligence named Dorothy (Danielle Harris) who has killed all of the scientists who once manned the building and is seeking a way to escape from her confines into the internet and the world at large. As the facility begins to come alive around the two criminals, they must fight to defeat the evil AI and prevent it from taking over the world.
The concept at the heart of Project Dorothy is decent, and it's not unlike something you've seen before. The acting is, likewise, average but good enough to attempt to carry the film. The main problem with the film is its lack of stakes: it's basically two dudes stuck in a building with an evil AI whose only weapons appear to be a pair of out-of-control forklifts. The lack of tension in the film really kills it for the most part, as much as Harris' voicework tries its best to save it. It drags along, failing to create either likeable characters or a real threat that's big enough to make the audience feel any terror.
At one point in the film, Dorothy learns about "wifi dongles" and decides that this is her ticket out of her self-contained box. She attempts to convince the robbers to let her out, promising to spare their lives if they will help her escape the facility. It's both unbelievable that a computer who seeks to take over the world wouldn't have access to information that would have already taught her about wifi and difficult to understand why she would have ever limited herself in the first place. Surely a scientific research facility would have access to the general internet already, especially one that is teased to be a part of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a very real and terrifying government project). The fact that Dorothy murdered all of her handlers and never thought to provide an escape for herself in the first place removes a lot of the fear factor, because it's difficult to imagine such a shortsighted villain would be much of a threat even if it were to escape into the rest of the world.
There's potential here, and to be honest, I'm more than willing to watch pretty much anything with Danielle Harris in it (and I'm still hoping to somehow trick her into marrying me, anyway). And she is, predictably, delightful as the cunning and smart-assed AI. There's just not enough here to make a complete movie. It really feels like a lack of budget and a dearth of real ideas prevent the movie from ever finding its legs, depending solely on its pair of human actors to carry the plot without providing much plot for them to carry. It's a missed opportunity, but it's one that will likely find somewhat of an audience who is just there for Harris. Her voice alone is not enough, however, and Project Dorothy, like its cyber namesake, never is able to escape from the confines it sets for itself.
Who this movie is for: Cyber-horror lovers, Survival horror nerds, Siri
Bottom line: Project Dorothy is shortsighted and small-scale, seeking to become a techno-thriller with a limited budget and a singular location. It largely fails in its aim, though it does give a micro-dose of Danielle Harris that genre fans will likely appreciate. All in all, it's a tiny-scope film that seeks to be much bigger, it's just never able to make that leap. If you're a particularly big fan of techno-horror or artificial intelligence movies, this one may be worth checking out. It's streaming On Demand now, so you're definitely welcome to make your own verdict.