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Film Review: Occasionally Engaging “Simulant” Simulates Better Films

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 2nd, 2023

Film review: “Simulant”

Simulant (April Mullen, 2023) 2 out of 4 stars.

The new sci-fi film Simulant, based on a script by Ryan Christopher Churchill and directed by April Mullen (Wander), takes a bit to coalesce into something somewhat coherent. Once it does, there’s no question that it tackles engaging philosophical questions about artificial intelligence (AI) and the nature of consciousness. None of those ideas are particularly novel here, however, since we’ve seen them addressed in earlier films like Blade Runner and Ex Machina, to name but two (and throw in RoboCop for further meditations on memory and afterlife). Still, by the end, Simulant has rescued itself from the worst of its derivative tendencies to emerge with a narrative that bears watching, if not repeating. By simulating better works, the movie comes close to imitating their achievements.

At first there are two parallel stories that don’t appear to connect, yet eventually do. In one, we meet Evan (Robbie Amell, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City) and Faye (Jordana Brewster, Who Invited Charlie?), a married couple whose onscreen introduction is via an oddly edited sex scene. Next, we have Kessler (Sam Worthington, Avatar: The Way of Water), a detective working for AICE (Artificial Intelligence Compliance Enforcement), in hot pursuit of a rogue, unregistered android named Esme (Alicia Sanz, The Devil Below), who may be linked to an outlaw programmer named Casey (Simu Liu, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings). It’s the near future, and as in so many dramas about humanity’s potential collapse, AI may have it in for us.

l-r: Alicia Sanz and Sam Worthington in SIMULANT @Vertical Entertainment

Another possibility is that our creations may just want a life of their own, though as things go, the threat we perceive leads to a human pushback that makes AI more likely to do exactly what we fear. Given the current WGA (Writers Guild of America) strike, which centers at least in part on concerns about what AI might mean for the profession, this is a highly relevant issue to our day, though as of yet we do not have to worry about androids attempting to physically destroy us. Yet.

The issues at stake in Simulant are simultaneously more basic and more fantastical: There’s simple survival and possible species extinction, both, with a little love thrown in for good measure. As Kessler pursues leads to track down the evil genius liberating androids from the programming that keeps them docile, Evan and Faye confront uncomfortable truths about their own relationship and identity. Esme may hold the key, though Casey also has many other cards up his tricky sleeves. And what’s his agenda, anyway?

Simu Liu in SIMULANT @Vertical Entertainment

After the opening jitters settle down, the movie achieves a kind of flow, the jagged jigsaw gradually making more sense. It’s even fairly entertaining in places. All the actors do their best, and offer fine performances. The totality of it all never feels fresh, though. Rarely has a title so perfectly prophesied content.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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