Tau is a lackluster Netflix Original film that sees Julia (Maika Monroe) trying to escape from a futuristic smart house and its owner Alex (Ed Skrein). For reasons that are never entirely clear Alex is experimenting on Julia with the help of the house’s AI, Tau (voiced by Gary Oldman).
My goodness, I really didn’t enjoy Tau. It’s a thriller in the very loosest sense of the word – I can’t really think of a time where I was close to being thrilled. Actually, I’m lying. I was slightly thrilled when the film finally finished, so that’s something.
The film feels like a lot of other more interesting films smashed together in the least pleasing way possible. I’d go as far as to say that if you actually got a computer to randomly generate film plots, pretty much all of them would be better than this. The story sees Julia, who is apparently some sort of pickpocket, kidnapped by Alex so that he can perform some sort of AI-related experiments on her. He imprisons her in his futuristic smart house and has her perform some problem-solving tasks (I think this was never made entirely clear) so that he could collect data from a chip in her neck. Solving the tasks apparently generates an emotional response, which is then converted into algorithms that he can use in some world-changing AI. As a basic concept, it’s pretty stupid, and the “science” behind it hurts my heart. I think I’ve actually spent more time thinking about the plot than the writers.
The film looks terrible; the sets are cheap and the technology is awful. Tau has a horrible neon aesthetic that’s clearly meant to be edgy, cyber and cool, and it’s not. It’s tacky and cheap. The smart house is just a load of concrete blocks and some badly designed “nanobots” that incidentally are in no way nano; they’re massive. It looks like something you’d find in the middle of the night on a shitty TV channel just to plug the schedule.
I’m probably most disappointed with Gary Oldman. He lends his voice to Tau, the AI that lives in Alex’s house, and I think he was literally phoning the performance in. I have no idea why he would even choose to do the film. Well, actually, I imagine a big bag of Netflix money would help, but even then I’d still be inclined to say no. Maika Monroe is probably the best thing in this, but that is very much a backhanded compliment as nobody comes out of this looking good. I’m not a huge fan of Ed Skrein; he wasn’t great in Deadpool, but I had assumed he’d been directed to be a bit hammy and a bit wooden. It turns out that’s just how he rolls. I think he’d give Jai Courtney a run for his money in the “most wooden” stakes (get it?).
The plot seems to hint that it might do something unexpected and throw some kind of curveball in there, but apparently not. It’s not trying to mislead you so that it can confound expectations, instead, it’s just lazily signposted. It is going for the most obvious choice, and not even executing that particularly well.
I’m trying to think of positive things to say about Tau, but I hated it. The technology is ridiculous and poorly thought out and the plot is a confusing mess that seems to just get ditched half-way through. The acting is pretty much non-existent and would have been better handled by a computer. The central premise of someone trapped in a bunker with a lunatic has been done so much better in recent years (10 Cloverfield Lane, Split and Ex Machina spring immediately to mind). It’s terrible. I was actually quite envious of Tau by the end of the film. I wish that I was able to delete my memories as well.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.