A Story We’ve Seen Before That Brings Nothing New To The Table

Jun 2, 2023

April Mullen’s (Wanderer) seventh feature film, Simulant, is drenched in classic sci-fi tropes, but it never makes a mark of its own. Ryan Christopher Churchill’s (Love Your Enemy) script is predictable up until the final ten minutes of the film. Though the cast is full of recognizable names and faces, none of them are up to the task of elevating Simulant in a meaningful way. The production value is where the film shines and both the practical and special effects are seamless, but Simulant is a story we’ve seen before that sadly brings nothing new to the genre.

In a world of increasingly more human A.I., the line between man and machine is blurrier than ever. These new hybrids, called simulants, are identical to humans with two notable exceptions. They are robots, and they have to abide by the four precepts: Do not inflict harm on any human being; do not modify yourself or any other simulant; no simulant may commit a crime against foreign or domestic law enforcement; and simulants must obey all commands from their masters. While Detective Kessler (Sam Worthington) is investigating a crime involving a simulant, he comes across the simulant’s neighbor Casey (Simu Liu), who is reeling from the realization that he’s been living next door to a simulant and not a person. However, it quickly becomes clear he knows more than he is letting on. Meanwhile, Evan (Robbie Amell) has dreams of dying and asks his wife Faye (Jordana Brewster) why they won’t stop. She reluctantly tells him it’s because he has her husband’s memories and is a simulant himself. Evan has a nervous breakdown but is consoled by none other than Casey. They team up to reshape the future of simulants, and maybe even the world.

Simu Liu in Simulant

The main issue with Simulant is its lack of originality. From Blade Runner to I, Robot the history of A.I. gaining sentience is a well-worn element of great sci-fi films. Simulant needed better filmmaking, acting and a script with something more to say about the human condition to elevate its storytelling. Simulant has none of the above. The production and CGI are perhaps the closest it gets to overachieving. The restraint shown by Mullen and Churchill allows just the right amount of robot circuitry and floating screens to not distract the viewer. Furthermore, the CGI does what it can do at its best, which is to blend in seamlessly with its practical surroundings. CGI can be overwhelming in big doses but when done right it can fill in the gaps movie-making needs to succeed in this space.

Amell, Worthington, and Brewster have plenty of experience in the B-movie space, but the same cannot be said for Liu, who starred in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Simulant marks his return to live-action feature films since his star-making turn in the MCU. With Barbie coming out next month we will get to see him in a hopefully more superior film. That being said, Liu is not killing it as Casey by any stretch of the imagination. Sadly, the cast of Simulant is as flat as its script.

Sam Worthington in Simulant

Simulant is not a total failure and there is one genuinely shocking moment in the film, but the overall experience is lacking across the board. Amell is ostensibly the lead, but the film bounces between being an ensemble and focusing on his character to the point that no one’s arc gets the attention it deserves. The motion graphics are very well-executed and cannot be denied, but the script and performances end any chance of the story rising above average. Simulant offers little in the way of great storytelling and is ultimately a visual pleaser, but nothing else.

Simulant is now playing in theaters and on demand. The film is 95 minutes long and not yet rated.

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