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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Automation

August 26, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #567: Automation

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never uttered the phrases “it’s just business” and “we have to take these actions to remain competitive in the marketplace,” because they’re just awful, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and sixty-seven, I take a look at the sci-fi horror comedy Automation, which is now available on a new special features laden Blu-ray from Epic Pictures.



Automation, directed and co-written by Garo Setian, stars Elissa Dowling as Jenny, an aspiring singer and musician that works overnight at a warehouse as some sort of freelance programmer or some such. Jenny works for the warehouse company but isn’t, technically, an employee of the company. Jenny essentially works alone except for Auto, a sort of humanoid robot (physically played by Jeff J. Knight and voiced by Jim Tasker) that cleans the place and does other assorted tasks. Jenny and Auto interact often and could be considered friends, even though Auto is a machine. It’s the most fulfilling relationship Jenny has going on in her life, while, for Auto, he’s happy to be “friends” with Jenny as pleasing humans is a big part of his programming.

The “regular” employees at the warehouse, with the exception of a few (Linda, as played Sarah French, seems to get along with Auto), don’t get along with Auto. They’re not necessarily openly hostile to the robot, but they are leery of Auto’s presence because they know that there’s a chance they could be replaced by the machine at any moment. One day, the warehouse’s leadership, Bill (Jeff Rector) and Susan (Sadie Katz), finally lower the boom on that employee assumption and announce that mass layoffs are just around the corner and a vast majority of the human workforce will be replaced by robots. As you would expect, the human employees aren’t happy with the news (especially Devin, as played by Graham Skipper. Devin is fucking livid), and they are doubly unhappy with the idea of having to train their replacement robots. The soon to be unemployed employees will be given some sort of severance package as long as they complete their robot training duties and leave without complaining. Most accept what’s happening and take the severance option and plan to train their replacements. Devin, though, is the one that decides against the severance option and decides to attack Auto.

Now, the weird thing is Auto is about to be fired, too, as his particular robot is considered obsolete. Auto is set to be replaced by a new and more advanced version of himself. Auto’s creator, Alan (Parry Shen), is in town to help the transition from a majority human workforce to a minority human workforce, and to shutdown Auto after downloading his operating system. When Auto finds out what’s going on, Auto is not happy about the news.

Well, wait a second. How can a robot, a machine, not be happy about being shut down? Why would a machine care if it’s shut down or not? Auto is essentially an advanced artificial intelligence that, with the help of something called an RTC chip, can learn while working among humans. The chip basically allows Auto to develop an identity, personality, and a sense of purpose. Auto does not want to be shut down because shutting down means he would no longer have a purpose. Auto’s original purpose was very different from working in a warehouse. Auto was originally built to be a war machine. Alan erased most of Auto’s war machine programming, but some residual code was left, and that code starts showing up when Auto finds out that he’s being replaced. Things don’t go well for the people who interact with Auto once that residual code takes over.

That all sounds pretty ominous, doesn’t it? Automation, based on all of that, sure as heck doesn’t sound like a fun movie at all. The reality is, though, Automation is tons of fun. All of that ominous plot description is sprinkled with a snarky sense of humor that resembles your typical workplace comedy movie or TV show and informs everything. Even when things get nasty and scary there’s still a wackiness in the air. The movie also contains a sweetness that you really don’t expect because Automation is a movie about a killer robot. How many killer robot movies have you seen that could be described as heartwarming?

Yeah. Exactly.

The main relationship in the movie is between Jenny and Auto and it’s shockingly moving. Jenny looks at Auto as a friend and treats him like an equal most of the time. Jenny’s perception of Auto changes when Auto goes full killer and starts menacing people in order to stay alive, but before all of that you’d swear that they were really good friends who enjoy each other’s company. Auto views Jenny as a friend, too, and can’t hurt her, but he has no qualms going after the people around Jenny. You get a real sense of Jenny’s internal confusion about Auto. She doesn’t want to see him hurt anyone, she doesn’t want to see him hurt, but she also knows that he’s going to have to be shut down if her fellow human employees are going to survive. Jenny’s scenes with Auto before the shit hits the fan are sweet. She tells him her hopes and dreams, and Auto dutifully listens and learns new words and phrases, like “the down low.” You will smile at these scenes, even if you think they’re kind of corny.

It’s also interesting how the movie makes its main human antagonist, Sadie Katz’s Susan, sympathetic by the end of the movie. The movie could have easily made Susan a stone cold prick, as she has no qualms about throwing people out of their jobs (it’s just business) and she doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for the people being let go. Susan offers Jenny a full time position with the company despite the layoffs, but Susan never makes it seem like the company actually wants Jenny to stay on. In fact, Susan actually tells Jenny that she wanted to eliminate her position outright and hire young people right out of college to replace her. What an asshole. As the movie goes on, though, Susan becomes less and less of an antagonist and becomes someone who is, perhaps, misunderstood (or maybe not just evil). And Parry Shen’s Alan, who seems like a good guy when we meet him, isn’t quite the nice guy you originally thought he was. It’s fascinating thing to see.

The horror aspects of the movie are well done and genuinely scary. When Auto decides to engage in self-preservation mode it’s terrifying because you’re never quite sure what he’s going to do. If he hits you with his hand he’s going to kill you. He has lasers in his wrists (and we all know what can happen to the human body when it’s hit with a laser in a movie). Auto also has tremendous strength. The only thing Auto can’t do is run, but his lack of speed doesn’t mean he can’t catch you if he wants to. Auto will come at you at a steady pace and he will get you. The scariest scene in the movie is when Auto, while chasing after Jenny and Susan, crouches down while walking. That crouch will give you nightmares if you find yourself thinking about it (and you will think about it after seeing it). There are also some fabulous gore moments spread throughout the movie.

The sci-fi setting of the movie is fascinating because there’s a real mix of new/futuristic stuff and “old” stuff that’s current now. Off in the distance you can see tall, gleaming structures and flying machines and whatnot, but in the world of the warehouse and its employees everything looks like a slightly more updated version of what we have now. People still use smartphones, people still drive cars that have gas engines, and people still watch TV. We do see small robots every now and then appear in the frame, cleaning the streets and flying by, but none of that stuff overwhelms what you see. That’s probably how the “real” future will unfold, a mix of old stuff and newer stuff. You’re not going to wake up one morning and see nothing but brand new, shiny technology.

Automation also has a tremendous sense of pacing. It doesn’t waste a second of its 92 minute runtime and there’s a tremendous balance of all of its parts. It’s always interesting, always entertaining, and it keeps you glued to the screen. Director Setian, in his feature film debut as a director, knows exactly what he’s doing and puts together a bonafide classic.


The performances are all terrific. Elissa Dowling does an outstanding job as Jenny. She gives Jenny a world weariness that’s infectious and a good reason to root for her. She has a beautiful voice but she can’t seem to catch a break. She keeps chipping away at her dream, but she’s also in desperate need of a job that pays the bills. Knowing all of that you can root for her. And, as I said earlier, her relationship with Auto is so damn sweet. Watch how she handles the movie’s final moments. Wow. An amazing performance.

Sadie Katz does a great job as Susan, the movie’s villain that you kind of end up liking. Again, Susan is such a jerk at the beginning of the movie that you can’t stand her. But, as the movie progresses, you start to like her. That kind of thing is hard to do. Parry Shen does a fabulous job as Alan, Auto’s creator. Alan starts out one way, then becomes someone else entirely. His early scene with Jenny is beautiful as they really get along, but their relationship isn’t going to end the way you think it will. And Alan, man, I bet he wishes he did a more thorough job eliminating Auto’s war machine programming.

Graham Skipper is brilliant as the fucking pissed off Devin. You know that he’s probably going to die by the end of the movie, simply because he’s the most upset at being replaced by a machine, but it’s hard not to sympathize with his plight. How would you like it if you lost your job to a machine at Christmas time? You’re goddamn right you’d be upset. I think you’ll be glad he’s able to get in the shots he gets in before he’s completely destroyed. Of course, if Auto had slapped him during the whole “water spilling” scene I don’t think anyone would have blamed Auto.

Sarah French and Josh Fallon make for a great workplace couple as Linda and Rick. Linda loves Rick and has sex with him at work, and Rick keeps telling Linda that he’s going to leave his wife. You could probably make a movie about their relationship. Linda also has several nice scenes with Auto, some of them funny, some of them tragic. That should be its own short movie.

And Jeff J. Knight does a tremendous job as the robot Auto. You know that Auto is a man in a suit, but he manages to make you believe that, maybe, Auto isn’t a man in a suit but a real deal robot. And the voice work by Jim Tasker is hilarious, terrifying, and heartbreaking. You will be touched by their performance.

And, in the end, I don’t think it’s wrong to say that you will be touched by Automation. It’s a terrific mix of sci-fi, horror, and comedy, and it will touch you emotionally in ways that you don’t expect it to. It really is a wonderful movie, and it’s definitely something that you should seek out and experience for yourself. I loved Automation.

See Automation. See it, see it, goddamn see it!

And please track down and purchase the new Blu-ray of Automation from Epic Pictures. It is chock full of special features, including multiple interviews with cast and crew, a wonderful making of documentary, deleted and alternate scenes, two commentary tracks, and more. It’s a great home video package and well worth the expense and effort. Go here to get it. You won’t be disappointed.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: At least 8.

Explosions: A few.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: A video presentation about automated robots, floor sweeping, more video watching, recharging, music video hooey, coffee, a back of the neck tattoo, massage via robot, little robots scurrying about, a rejection letter, a night club dream, talk of a new battery, deliberate water spilling, goofing around, smoke break hooey, bird protection, e-mail hooey, serious car issues, office sex, mass layoffs with attempted “look at this a new chance” positivity bullshit, shovel to the face, a fast food place called Beastie Burger, eavesdropping, robot dream flashbacks, company Christmas party hooey, data transfer hooey, an argument, more shovel attacks, a bloody mouth, bloody arm removal, dead body hiding, neck breaking, door smashing, a robot chase, an oddly tender moment, a mega bear hug, a boot phone, electronics smashing, axe hooey, laser attack, a slightly raucous Christmas party, a future war flashback, deactivation hooey, laser decapitation, electrocution, stuffed animal throwing, a crouched down pursuing robot, water dumping, attempted electrocution, head smashing, and a shockingly moving ending.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: Christmas in the future, “And Parry Shen,” Secret Santa, bicep kissing, “on the DL,” Parry Shen, “look at this as a reinvention,” Bill dressing up as Santa, multiple shovel attacks, friendship, heat vision, a crouched down pursuing robot, and a shockingly moving ending.

Best lines: “Auto, you’ve got to stop sneaking up on me like that,” “Do me a favor and don’t mention this to Susan, okay?,” “Auto, if you were human you would totally be boyfriend material,” “Friends keep secrets. So we are friends then?,” “Auto made you coffee?,” “Jenny, your voice is so pleasing. I want to see how it works,” “Fuck you, Linda. In your dreams,” “See you around, Auto,” “This is why I work the night shift,” “I think I have a scientist fetish,” “Alan, do you have my new battery?,” “He’s given you a massage?,” “It’s all about efficiency,” “So everyone’s replaceable in the new world order?,” “Auto, are you okay? I had an accident,” “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to deactivate Auto?,” “To bring the new tech you have to get rid of the old,” “Relax. This will all be over in less than an hour,” “I am special?,” “Piece of shit toaster oven!,” “Must protect Jenny!,” “He’s reactivated his laser!,” “I’m sorry, Dad. I really fucked this up this time,” “I just really need a hug right now,” “I am crushing on you, Linda,” “I did not intend to murder anyone. It was a malfunction,” “You’re so dead when I find you,” “He’s firing a fucking laser! We don’t need that for shipping and receiving!,” “Jenny, is that you?,” “That was impressive. Good arm. I grew up with three brothers,” “You are both testing the limits of my patience,” and “Jenny, something is not right. Do you hear me?”

Rating: 10.0 /10.0


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Things to Watch Out For


The Barge People: This new low budget British horror flick, apparently originally known as “Mutant River,” is about a bunch of people who go on a weekend holiday to a barge and end up getting attacked by weird beard mutant killer monsters. Sounds pretty simple, and, sometimes, simple is the best way to go. The monsters look phenomenally disgusting, and, for a monster movie, that’s always a plus. Definitely worth a rental, just to see how it plays out/if it’s as good as the trailer suggests. I bet this ends up on Shudder at some point. The fine folks at RLJE are releasing it.


Cursed Films: This five part documentary series, produced by and for Shudder, is a bit of a mixed bag. Basically, it’s a series that takes a look at five different “cursed” movies and attempts to examine why they’re “cursed.” The movies the series looks at are The Exorcist, The Omen, The Crow, Poltergeist, and The Twilight Zone: The Movie. The episodes on The Exorcist and The Omen are 1/3 interesting information, 2/3’s total bullshit and easily the worst of the series (which is terrible since they were the first two episodes released). The episode on The Crow is well done but infuriating (Michael Berryman’s comments will make you mad), the Poltergeist episode ends on a high note, after a lot of speculative garbage, and the episode on The Twilight Zone isn’t long enough or hard enough on director John Landis and his negligent actions (Landis was cleared in court of any wrongdoing but, to me, that decision was a travesty. Please track down and read the book Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego, and the Twilight Zone Case by Stephen Farber and Marc Green for all of the details). Even with those issues, the series is worth checking out, just to see what it’s all about. I hope, if Shudder decides to do another batch of episodes, that the show is more serious in tone. There’s no such thing as curses. Curses are bullshit. Anyone out there see this series and really like it?


Death Before Dishonor: I first saw this low budget action flick on cable, psyched because Fred Dryer, star of the NBC cop show Hunter, was in a movie playing a kickass Marine taking on terrorists and whatnot (I don’t know how many times I saw the commercial for the movie featuring the scene where Dryer’s character fires a rocket launcher out the windshield of his jeep). I, of course, loved every second of it. Directed by the great stunt coordinator/performer Terry Leonard and also starring Brian Keith and Paul motherfucking Winfield, this is a classic late 1980’s action flick. It has everything (well, the only scene I don’t like is the one where the Marines get drunk and jam a pin into a guy’s chest. The scene makes my skin crawl. And, yes, I find that scene more disturbing than the scene where terrorists run a drill through the top of Brian Keith’s hand). The fine folks at Scorpion Releasing are behind this new Blu-ray release. It doesn’t have much in the way of special features (it has a few but there’s no Terry Leonard commentary, which is what I would want to hear) but you can bet that the movie never looked better. Any other Death Before Dishonor fans out there?


Next Issue: It’s the low budget action flick Hard Kill starring Jesse Metcalfe and Bruce Willis!


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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.


Elissa Dowling– Jenny
Sadie Katz– Susan
Parry Shan– Alan
Graham Skipper– Devin
Sarah French– Linda
Jeff Rector– Bill
Anahit Setian– Marci
Marv Blauvelt– Mel
Josh Fallon– Rick
Jeff J. Knight– Auto
Jim Tasker– Auto (voice)

Directed by Garo Setian
Screenplay by Rolfe Kanefsky, Mathew L. Schafer and Garo Setian, based on a story by Rolfe Kanefsky and Garo Setian.

Distributed by Epic Pictures and Dread

Not Rated
Runtime– 92 minutes

Buy it here