(US/Luxembourg - 2018)
Directed by Federico D'Alessandro. Written by Noga Landau. Cast: Maika Monroe, Ed Skrein, Fiston Barek, Ivana Zivkovic, voice of Gary Oldman. (R, 97 mins)
After WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY, THE TITAN, and ANON, it seems like Netflix's apparent criteria for acquiring sci-fi films to stream as original movies begins and ends with "Could this pass for a middling feature-length episode of BLACK MIRROR?" Such is the case with TAU, the directing debut of Federico D'Alessandro, a veteran storyboard artist and animatics supervisor who's been buried in the closing credits of many a Marvel blockbuster. Given D'Alessandro's experience with the visuals of films in their planning stages, it's no surprise that TAU, set largely inside an expansive, high-tech house, looks terrific. Its early exterior scenes have that sort of rainy neon that's been de rigueur for the sci-fi genre since BLADE RUNNER, but it's a look that rarely gets old. TAU's inspirations come from other sources, mostly video store fixtures from a generation ago, like Richard Stanley's 1990 cult classic HARDWARE, Stephen Norrington's 1995 HARDWARE-esque DEATH MACHINE, and the same kind of dystopian atmosphere of 1993's CYBORG 2, not to mention an imposing, AI-controlled robot called Aries that looks like the ED-209 from ROBOCOP's significantly less graceful cousin. Factoring out some expectedly janky CGI explosions and destruction in the climax and TAU probably could pass for a straight-to-VHS Vidmark Entertainment title from 1995. Scraping by fencing stolen watches and credit cards acquired at clubs, wrong-side-of-the-tracks Julia (Maika Monroe of IT FOLLOWS) has dreams of going to music school and lives in the usual drab apartment with the light from an exterior neon sign constantly flashing into her bedroom. She's knocked out and abducted and wakes up in a cell wearing a Hannibal Lecter-type mask made of rubber. There's two other captives, who reluctantly tag along when Julia plans an escape. The other two are killed almost instantly while the more resourceful Julia survives and meets her captor: brilliant and deranged scientist Thomas Alexander "Alex" Upton (Ed Skrein).