Directed by: April Mullen
Distributed by: Mongrel Media
Written by Michael Clawson
A middling sci-fi thriller that borrows heavily from “Blade Runner,” “Simulant” has enough momentum and coherence to be mildly diverting, but its lack of originality ultimately makes it decidedly unremarkable. Directed by April Mullen from a script by Ryan Christopher Churchill, the film runs on a zeitgeisty premise, which imagines a world where artificially intelligent machines have become indistinguishable from humans. Rather than “replicants,” these humanoids are called “simulants,” and they’re corporate products designed to be subservient to their fully biological human counterparts. The story hinges on the possibility of simulants breaking loose of their encoded obedience and attaining true agency. Anyone who’s paid even a modicum of attention to sci-fi stories in recent decades will find much of this familiar to a fault.
The narrative moves along two tracks, one of which is more appealing than the other. In one plot thread, Faye (Jordana Brewster) lives with a simulant clone of her deceased husband Evan (Robbie Amell). As expected of any emotionally well-adjusted person, she struggles with the nature of their relationship. In the story’s second strand, Sam Worthington’s Kessler is modeled after Harrison Ford’s blade runner: he is a government agent hunting down simulants that a mysterious someone has hacked and set free of their factory precepts. Evidence leads Kessler to Simu Liu’s Casey, a techie with a vision of a world where all simulants have been unshackled.
I never found “Simulant” to be meaningfully thought-provoking or thrilling, but there is some pleasure to be had in the relationship drama between its human wife and humanoid husband characters, which comes with some brief but enjoyably erotic flashes of marital intimacy. Amell might severely lack personality as a performer, but Brewster is an engrossing actress – I’d have been thrilled if the movie ditched its cat-and-mouse tension between Kessler and Casey entirely, and instead delved deeper into Faye’s grieving and confused interiority. That would also have spared us an abysmal performance from Simu Liu, whose star status is unfathomable to me.