Visually stylish, Lab Rat could use more running room for its story.
Our third look at director Nour Wazzi’s body of work is her latest short film, Lab Rat. The film explores A.I. and human identity in a thriller that pits its characters against each other. Wazzi once again nails the visuals, but again reveals her hand too early when it comes to the film’s big twist.
Lab Rat (2019)
As protests rage in the streets due to automation-created joblessness, a high tech robotics company prepares to close for the night. Just before the last workers can exit the lab, the facility is locked down, stranding three workers in the cafeteria.
As they try to understand their situation, the CEO’s voice announces the situation is the final test phase of their latest product: an A.I. synthetic human. The worker’s job is to discover which one of them actually is the A.I., or else remain locked in the facility.
A.I. is understandably a hot topic in science fiction these days. Recent hits like Ex Machina showed how potent the topic can be when used effectively. Other films have demonstrated how frustrating it can be when done poorly (looking at you, Replicas!) Nour Wazzi somewhat sidesteps the topic, using it as a launching pad for exploring more primal, human concerns.
It reminds me a bit of another short film we covered, Joe Penna’s zombie thriller Turning Point. The film wasn’t about zombies, as much as what a world that contains zombies would do to the people in it. Same with Lab Rat; it’s not important that there is actually a replicant, but that the possibility is real in this world and it makes people show their character as they normally wouldn’t.
I had two problems with Lab Rat, one big and one small (which eventually went on to reinforce the bigger problem.) The little problem is that, like in Baby Mine, the reveal of who is the robot is supposed to turn your expectations on their head, but it’s glaringly obvious long before it happens. The big problem is that the film is too short to do much with all of the ideas it’s premise uncovers.
The characters are a bit flat because they need to remain viable candidates for being the A.I. and they need to obviously reveal who they are underneath. With more time they could be fleshed out. It would also benefit other aspects of the story, such as the triangle between the CEO, a supervisor, and one of the workers. That dynamic becomes the heart of the story, but feels dropped in your lap because there’s just not time to do it gracefully.
Scale Up Production.
After seeing three films from Nour Wazzi, I remain impressed by her skill behind the camera. Her films are always incredibly polished and show a real mastery of technique and composition. A full budget film from her would undoubtedly be as gorgeous as films by Denis Villeneuve or Alex Garland. I hope she gets the chance to make those films, if she wants to.
Some projects chafe at the limitations of a short format – some really great movies like THX 1138, SAW, and The Babadook all started as shorts and benefited from the larger format. I think Lab Rat could really flourish as a feature too.