Sci-fi thrillers are a dime a dozen, but making one worth your time can hit the right notes in a harmonious way. Zone 414, the feature film debut of director Andrew Baird and Titans writer Bryan Edward Hill, is thankfully one of the good ones. It takes the best of the genre—android action, philosophical questions about artificial intelligence, a badass lead character, twists and turns—and mashes them together in a bold and satisfying way. It legitimately makes one care about an an android and her journey through a sea of sleaze to maintain her independence.
Private investigator David (Guy Pearce) has been tasked with finding the daughter of a billion-dollar mogul (Travis Fimmel) who created androids. The main problem is that Melissa (Holly Demaine) went missing three weeks ago inside a community of androids, a special place called Zone 414. Here, androids are allowed to freely interact with human beings. No murder is allowed, and the involvement of a police presence inside the “City of the Robots” could be catastrophic in maintaining the bottom line and the advertised version of peace and tranquility. David must retrieve her as quietly as possible, slipping quietly into Zone 414, and his reward will be two million pounds. Easy enough, right?
Of course, there would not be much of a movie if it was that cut and dry. Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) the robot may well be one of the only people who was close to Melissa during her stay, and could provide the necessary clues to finding Melissa once and for all. The bulk of Zone 414 deals with David and his prejudice against the androids, as Jane and her relatively normal living space forces him to question just how alive A.I. really is. The script skirts around diving deep into what makes the androids tick; Jane’s character does the heavy lifting, in regards to the humanizing of artificial life and what it means.
As an ensemble movie, Zone 414 fills its central roles with a rather talented roster. Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, who stunned in Netflix’s A Classic Horror Story, is electric as Jane. It is ironic that she breathes life so intensely into a seemingly artificial entity, which is frequently treated as little more than a hooker for other people’s amusement. The pursuit of her character by a creepy stalker snapping photos implies something sinister is afoot in the Zone.
Travis Fimmel is nearly unrecognizable as Marlon under all that makeup, wiry hair, and spanning forehead. It is a weird turn of events that caused him to fill this role in the first place. Originally, Fimmel was slated to be Zone 414’s lead, but scheduling conflicts with one of his other 2021 projects, Die in a Gunfight, caused him to drop out. Fimmel was still able to hop back on the wagon for a smaller role when production was pushed back, and it is certainly a memorable one at that. I have to say I think he would have made a better David. Guy Pearce tries hard, but he is the one clear weak link in an otherwise stellar cast. His character is still full of swagger, regardless.
The closest comparisons in terms of tone and content for Zone 414 come in the form of Netflix’s excellent Altered Carbon, as well as the Quantic Dream video game, Detroit: Become Human. Like those projects (Detroit in particular), the film contemplates what it means to be human, synthetic property as a concept, and the idea of androids being “an antidote for the loneliness of the modern world.” An ending implies a sequel may be iminent, which could mean a return trip to Zone 414. I know I would be down, if a sequel is even halfway as action-packed and entertaining.
Zone 414 invites you to “Robot City,” steaming and in limited release theaters on Friday, September 3rd.