Director: Robert Cuffley
Starring: Alexa Barajas, Juan Riedinger, Pavel Kříž, Jocelyn Chugg, Jamie Shelnitz
The mere mention of AI in 2023 is enough to cause a cavalcade of opinions, thoughts, and emotions, thus making the ever-controversial subject ripe for the horror genre (though this isn’t a new idea) to examine and exploit. Robert Cuffley’s ROMI pits human vs. artificial intelligence set against the backdrop of a beautifully minimalist, yet technologically advanced, house secluded away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life - which is perfect as Maddie (Barajas) is laying low following an accident that could cause potential embarrassment for her ambitious politician mother. Once alone in the house, Maddie begins to suspect the AI simply does not like her, but the AI may be the least of her worries…
"In what should be a fairly stripped-back narrative, the waters are muddied early on and the film never quite recovers."
Amazon Alexa can be the bane of my life, sometimes it doesn’t respond to or understand my clearly relayed (...) instructions, but I do not believe it harbors any ill will toward me. But what if it did? It’s a fun premise to play with, and, initially, Cuffley does just that. ROMI gets to where it needs to be quickly enough, setting the scene and situations whilst introducing the film’s AI - aptly named ROMI. What the film does after this, however, is begin to introduce too much to the narrative leading to an eventually bloated thriller that really didn't need to end up that way. Alongside the technological horror, Cuffley adds supernatural elements, familial drama, mystery, and fragile masculinity. In what should be a fairly stripped-back narrative, the waters are muddied early on and the film never quite recovers - especially given the eventual reveal is telegraphed fairly obviously in the early stages of the film.
Another key issue I had was that ROMI lacked real thrills or any genuine tension, given its core idea and themes of isolation, more could have been expected on the creepier side of things. Alexa Baraja gives a game-lead performance but is unable to really imbue the character or film with the levels required to make our palms sweat, but that is more down to the screenplay than any performance.
ROMI is a competently made low-budget thriller that looks good (the near-solo location is effective) and carries intriguing ideas, but it never quite follows through on them, instead adding too many ingredients to the recipe and losing sight of the simplicity that could have made this rather more effective.
August 8th 2023