Wifelike walks a slim line round sci-fi sleaze

Stories about robots or clones make for supreme low-budget sci-fi, as a result of they don’t essentially require elaborate particular results to mount a convincing phantasm. Take, for instance, Meredith (Elena Kampouris), from the uneven new streaming film Wifelike. She’s type of a clone-robot hybrid, a synthetic human made by the titular firm, which supplies “companions” for grieving males (and seemingly solely males) who’ve misplaced their spouses. These customizable, programmable robots are infused with points of an actual individual, although it’s not instantly clear how a lot of a girl’s character may be ported over into a synthetic physique.

Kampouris performs the “real” Meredith for a number of moments all through the film; more often than not, although, she’s inhabiting the robo-companion model, with seemingly zero pc enhancements to assist her efficiency. She solely wants oddly inflexible posture and physique language, augmented by some make-up and overly tidy costuming, to look genuinely uncanny, like an action-figure replica of a well-known actress.

Meredith (Elena Kampouris) examines herself in a mirror while holding up lipstick in Wifelike

Image: Paramount Home Entertainment

The look of Meredith, and the opposite companions proven in Wifelike, is exact. If solely the film made the world round them equally plausible. From its movie-opening faux commercial, the idea of companions is straight away muddled. They’re someway bought as each fantastically detailed intercourse dolls and a therapy for crushing grief, functions that appear at odds with one another. Companions don’t appear sentient sufficient to encourage the virulent liberation motion seen within the film.

And in flip, the protestors don’t appear quite a few sufficient to justify a fleet of “agents” like William (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), whose job it’s to trace down errant intercourse dolls like a low-rent Blade Runner. As a reward for diligent work, the Wifelike firm replaces William’s useless spouse with the Meredith bot. But she’s introduced extra as an employment perk than a grief therapy. Are these robo-wives exploitative sleaziness disguised as therapeutic aids, or vice versa?

In a greater film, the perversity could be the purpose. Maybe it’s on this one, too; it’s exhausting to inform when William’s obtuse case is the viewers’s solely constant window into the observe of doling out companions. Wifelike definitely isn’t shy about sexuality early on, and although the intercourse scenes between William and Meredith are extra softcore silliness than real provocation, Meredith does have a humorous second to herself: When exploring the opportunity of self-pleasure, she will get an “access denied” message from her central processing system.

William (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) stands shirtless behind artificial companion Meredith (Elena Kampouris) in Wifelike

Image: Paramount Home Entertainment

That second is a stand-in for the entire film, which is most attention-grabbing when it leaves Meredith to her personal units. She begins to determine her personal viewpoint by means of unusual sci-fi touches like her “dream mode,” which permits her to pick out situations for a simulation of human sleep. Meredith additionally begins out talking within the third individual, solely regularly accessing sufficient sense of self to make first-person statements — a neat concept, although type of an odd programming wrinkle for such a vastly superior system.

There’s an amusing second the place Meredith should course of a waiver with a view to cook dinner William some health-threatening bacon, however typically Meredith must be taught phrases that a pc would most likely be capable of search for seamlessly. What’s the utility of that slower studying curve, for both a grieving widower or a attractive loser? Like the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives, the film itself typically seems unsure concerning the precise hows and whys of the method that makes companions.

As Meredith’s consciousness expands, she’s drawn into the battle between William’s firm and the anti-companion forces, uncovering buried secrets and techniques, hidden recollections, and so forth. This pressure could be tighter if Jonathan Rhys Meyers didn’t play William as such a morose creep from the start. After half-hour or so, Wifelike proceeds with the sinking feeling that writer-director James Bird intends to peel again layers of male decorousness to disclose the entitlement and management beneath. But these qualities are as seen because the skimpy lingerie that the companions all appear to have available as equipment.

Elena Kampouris lies in bed wearing glowing AR goggles in Wifelike

Image: Paramount Home Entertainment

Rather than growing the uneasy, imbalanced relationship between these two particular characters, Wifelike excavates some barely hid subtext and proudly lays it out as textual content: Men subjugate ladies, and if their makes an attempt to try this are stymied, they’ll invent new ladies to subjugate some extra. There are moments the place the film appears able to provocatively recast grief and loneliness as catch-all excuses for male misdeeds, however Bird backs away from it by not together with any main characters who’re genuinely grieving. It’s simply one other attention-grabbing concept the film raises and drops.

Bird comes up with loads of particulars that would gasoline both a crazier B-movie or a extra reflective sci-fi chamber piece, and Kampouris appears up for both choice, whether or not she’s trying to assimilate right into a cloistered home life or making her manner by means of the “dreamscape” that capabilities as type of a digital actuality. It’s the low-rent cop-movie-level materials with William and his co-worker buddy Jack (Doron Bell) that in the end pushes Wifelike previous the purpose of no return, into its personal uncanny valley. What’s purported to resemble a wise, unnerving sci-fi film seems extra like a lecture about male dominance and deception that retains foregrounding its least attention-grabbing characters.

Wifelike opens in restricted theatrical launch on Aug. 12, and is now obtainable to stream on Amazon, Vudu, and different digital rental and buy platforms.

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