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by Jay Seaver

"I'm a cyborg and maybe not okay."
3 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL 45: When making a film like "I Am REN", it's easy to see two worthy directions for things to go, and awfully tempting to find a way to try both. If you're going to do that, they'd better be equally interesting, or things would have to get more interesting as the film goes on and revelations change perspective. Writer/director Piotr Ryczko, ultimately, doesn't find the best way to put his various ideas together, even though many of them are good enough to keep the movie interesting.

He introduces the audience to the Wirskirska family - father Jan (Marcin Sztabinski), mother Renata (Marta Król), and son Kamil (Olaf Marchwicki), living in relative isolation in a lake house in Poland. One day after Jan goes to work, Renata has a breakdown, and that's when it comes out that Renata is a REN-model android. Such automata are usually decommissioned and replaced after such an incident, but Jan and Kam have a hard time conceiving that, so they go to a compound for treatment - but Renata soon starts to wonder if she can trust her memories.

As straight-ahead science fiction goes, there are a lot of nifty things going on if one takes those elements at face value: The way Renata appears to be seamlessly integrated with that Wiskirska's smart home is a bit of futurism that feels right and also hints at the horror story that this could become if she were to become unstable in a different way, for instance. The idea that someone could be affecting her memory makes her fascinating in terms of both the limitations of an AI's sentience and for how it corresponds to human life in the present, where one can be overwhelmed with false or misleading information with the need to make consequential decisions. There's a fair amount of Asimov's <I>I, Robot</I> in the scenes where Renata visits a pair of therapists, though with a Twenty-First Century view of technology.

Logic dictates a simpler solution than the conspiracies that Renata and fellow AI Ela (Marieta Zukowska) offer, and there's a good film to be made from that - truth be told, Park Chan-Wook made it, but I'm a Cyborg But That's Okay never got a legitimate American release. Ryczko sprinkles hints at another direction through the movie before giving it a larger spotlight in the back half, but it's never pushed far enough forward to feel like a legitimate alternative even if it makes more sense, and when Ryczko gets there, it hasn't been built up enough to be more than a twist for twisting's sake rather than a commentary on the pressure to be perfect. By the time Ryczko gets to "one more twist", it's frustratingly disconnected from resonating the way it could.

Marta Król is strong as Renata no matter what the film is doing with her, at least. She's got a warmth and empathy as Renata that feels completely genuine but not out of line with the sort of arch response she gives when speaking with her human therapist (Janusz Chabior); the emotion is never a put-on, especially when she's paralyzed with horror, but the process of self-examination brings something different out in her. It's not quite a one-woman show - Marieta Zukoska and Olaf Marchwicki both play well off her - but nobody else gets to flesh their character out enough to present an alternate point of view.

Ryczko and his crew build a nice near-future world, keeping things just familiar enough to make it easy for an audience to slip in but extrapolating well when he needs to, especially since he often has to make sure that what he shows doesn't have to be tweaked very far to mean something else. It's shot nicely by Yori Fabian, processed to have a nice filmic look without being ostentatious. The film is cut tight enough that it seldom has time to get bogged down, though it could use a little more room to explore its ideas in more depth.

Or maybe keep it at a trim 75 minutes and just pick a direction for the film to go and commit to it. "I Am REN" impresses early and often, but seems to change its mind often enough that one gets a bit of twist fatigue by the end.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33493&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/23/20 15:01:20
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