A.I. Rising

2018 / 85m - Serbia
Sci-fi, Romance
A.I. Rising poster

Expect the worst, hope for the best. Based on the poster and the overly generic title, I didn't have very high hopes for Lazar Bodroza's A.I. Rising (also known as Ederlezi Rising by the way, which is slightly more captivating title). But a title and poster don't make a great film and since I'm quite starved for good sci-fi these days, I figured I might just well give this one a fair shot. It's a good thing I did because A.I. Rising is exactly the kind of sci-fi cinema I've been craving for some time now. A slice of oldskool, hardcore, industrial-looking futurism, with very little in the way of compromise.

screen capture of A.I. Rising

To get one thing out of the way: A.I. Rising is not an erotic film. This seems to be one of the main points of critique for a great deal of reviewers out there, but to me it feels like missing the point completely. Sure enough, there's a lot of nudity (mostly frontal, from the waist up) and the main actress has a history in adult cinema, but the nudity is as much part of the character as it is part of the main themes of the film. Erotic films linger on, leer at and fetishize the human body, Bodroza doesn't do any of that. His portrayal is more factual and functional.

Personally I find most modern sci-fi too concerned with extrapolating existing trends and problems into near-future doom scenarios. A.I. Rising on the other hand takes on a more abstract and futuristic concept and really digs into it, without feeling the need to make too much negative or positive presumptions. It's an exploration of what could be in the future (human vs android), while at the same time reiterating one of the oldest human divides (man/woman). These two layers complement each other really well, at least, if you're not too distracted by the nudity on display.

The plot itself is quite bare bones. A male astronaut settler is sent on a journey to Alpha Centauri, by way of social experiment an untested android model (customized to man's personality) is accompanying him on his mission. Besides an expansive list of preprogrammed functions, the android also has a separate, secondary OS that develops itself through interaction with its environment. In this particular case, that environment is largely defined by its male companion. With little else to do on this long and solitary journey, it doesn't take long before the two of them develop feelings for each other.

screen capture of A.I. Rising

The film has a very industrial look, which is something I can appreciate in sci-fi cinema. The sets are stoic and barren, uninviting but functional. Tangled cables, rudimentary appliances and bold lighting give the spaceship character, but cozy it is not. The computer interfaces and animations have a strong retro sci-fi charm to them, all indicating a future that is still focused on accomplishments and exploration rather than cultural pimping. The CG is a little limited, but stylish camera work, smart framing, bold lighting and limited use of establishment shots make sure that it doesn't bog the film down unnecessarily. All in all, A.I. Rising is very attractive-looking sci-fi that transcends its limited means.

A budget film like A.I. Rising has everything to gain from an atmospheric soundtrack and Bodroza seemed very aware of this. More so than the visuals, the sound dictates the atmosphere. It's not just the music either, the voice acting and computerized voices echo the cold and distant universe in which these characters live. The music is esoteric and moody, supporting and guiding the pace of the film, while slowly increasing the suspense as A.I. Rising builds up to its finale. It's all very tailored and minutely controlled, once again showcasing the immense impact music can have on the baseline experience of a film.

With only four actors on the credits (and only three visible on screen), there is not much margin for error. People are going to be spending 90 minutes with these actors, so they need to be good enough to draw the audience into the film. Both Cavazza and Stoya were clearly cast with their looks in mind (they are both perfect archetypes, representing "man" and "woman"), but they also deliver worthy performances. Both their characters come to life, even though their emotional journey is somewhat conceptual and scripted. Majer and Besterman are solid in secondary parts and that's the whole cast right there.

screen capture of A.I. Rising

The whole human vs android theme has been explored countless times before, but A.I. Rising does manage to add to it. On the hand it introduces some extra technological complexity, which is nice from a hardcore sci-fi perspective. On the other hand it uses its themes to explore the classic man/woman divide. Bodroza doesn't shun some controversial realities, at the same time he manages to keep a more neutral position, making sure his film doesn't devolve into poorly constructed and/or predictable social critique. That alone deserves a lot of respect.

A.I. Rising is a slice of juicy, old-fashioned science fiction. If you prefer the current trend of Black Mirror-like doom stories, this film might be a little too slow, too conceptual and too vague. And if your hormones run wild by the first hint of nudity, you might be a little too young for this one. But seasoned genre fans are sure to appreciate the industrial atmosphere, the in-depth exploration of futuristic themes and the mix of strong genre elements with a layer of social commentary. Lazar Bodroza is a talented man who infused A.I. Rising with the right balance of genre and personal signature. If you're starved for good sci-fi, do give this film a shot.