EIFF 2021: Absolute Denial

This breakneck, Frankenstein-esque animation about an unemployed programmer's battle of wits with the AI program he's created has some narrative flaws, but it's a hugely promising first feature

Film Review by Nathaniel Ashley | 02 Sep 2021
  • Absolute Denial
Film title: Absolute Denial
Director: Ryan Braund
Starring: Nick Eriksen, Jeremy J. Smith-Sebasto, Harry Dyer, Heather Gonzalez, Jef Leeson

AI is considered to be the holy grail of computer programming – a sentient entity capable of computing impossibly complex equations in microseconds. Yet that prospect is as terrifying as it is tempting, threatening to make humanity, with all its flaws, obsolete.

Absolute Denial, an animated science fiction film helmed by first-time director Ryan Braund, explores that paradox. It follows David, an unemployed programmer who builds an AI in an abandoned warehouse. The intelligence, named Al for Alpha, is forced to communicate through a computer monitor and microphone, making David its only possible means of escape.

The film focuses on the battle of wits between the programmer and his program. David may begin in a position of power, but he quickly finds himself intellectually outpaced by his creation’s childlike thirst for knowledge. Despite having no camera, Al is able to use David’s breathing patterns to deduce that his mental health is in decline, an ominous revelation that reveals just how little control he has over the situation.

Absolute Denial may be more interested in cerebral conflict than physical confrontation, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. A propulsive synth score drives the plot forward at breakneck pace, and the monochromatic colour palette adds a foreboding hint of film noir, amplified by David’s angst-ridden voiceover.

A late twist threatens to drag the film into narrative quicksand. The twist itself is ingenious, but Braund overplays the kaleidoscopic visuals that symbolise David’s confusion, robbing the film of its carefully crafted momentum. Nevertheless, Absolute Denial remains an engaging exploration of the dangerous fascination with AI and our own limitations. Like the increasingly erratic Al, Braund’s debut may be flawed, but it effectively probes humanity’s fear of being made redundant by its own creations.

Absolute Denial had its UK premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival

Nathaniel Ashley is a film critic and freelance journalist currently based in Devon, and blogs about film at Natflix. He was part of Edinburgh International Film Festival's Young Critics Programme. For more on EIFF's Young Critics Programme, click here

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