Motion Detected (2023) Review: Films that center around artificial intelligence gone rogue make way for interesting perspectives about the man-machine dichotomy and the dynamic overlaps that the two share. A more recent example would be Gerard Johnstone’s M3GAN, which examines the dangers inherent in AI achieving singularity and making increasingly harmful decisions for the sake of self-preservation.
While M3GAN is a classic case of a perfectly harmless human-sized doll suddenly developing cunning psychopathy, what about machines that are either designed to be or end up being diabolical from the get-go? Justin Gallaher and Sam Roseme create an alarmingly intelligent, downright evil security system in Motion Detected, where an intelligence system meant to protect you from harm is actually actively out to get you.
Eva (Natasha Esca), recently the victim of a traumatizing home invasion in Mexico City, moves to a quiet neighborhood in the US with her doting husband, Miguel (Carlo Mendez). The posh, sprawling home that they end up buying appears like a dream home. But there is something truly sinister that inhabits the space — doors open on their own, a glitchy figure of a child is seen running around, setting off motion sensors, and something about the neighbors seems off.
While the process of adjusting to a new space after a trauma-inducing incident is very difficult, to begin with, Miguel has to leave Eva behind for a week due to some important business he has in Mexico. As Eva adjusts to her new abode, horrors from the past come back to haunt her, and her present feel more threatening than ever.
What might have been a rather boring, by-the-book horror/mystery thriller involving glitchy specters and paranormal activity is elevated by Gallaher and Roseme in ways that do wonders for Motion Detected. The duo understands the merits of languid yet measured pacing, where layers of fear and paranoia are allowed to accumulate until they reach a breaking point.
The home security system that comes with the house, ominously named Diablo, is the source of Eva’s troubles: the system arms and disarms its system arbitrarily, is too intrusive when it comes to carrying out its functions (which are pre-packaged as “intuitive” and “helpful”), and the glitchy figure running around in the security camera footage does not help matters. However, the most unsettling aspect of Diablo is its ever-watchful, almost-sinister surveillance, as it records conversations, quietly analyzes Eva’s behavioral patterns, and at some point, even her nightmares.
For a slow-burn horror mystery that reveals its ace right before the end, Motion Detected is an utterly riveting, increasingly terrifying descent into the bowels of trauma and the unimaginable burden of reliving it. Natasha Esca infuses a distinct brand of fierceness and vulnerability into her performance, rooting Eva as a tough-as-nails survivor who is self-aware enough to work through her fears and do everything in her power to battle evil with no physical body attached to it.
As we watch and perceive Eva, Diablo watches and perceives her, and unlike us, the security system pushes her buttons to trigger her worst nightmares in an attempt to break her spirit, as it has done to so many before her.
What Motion Detected does best is that it delves into the subtleties of what makes a looming intelligence system, which controls almost every aspect of our lives, truly menacing. There are no cheap jumpscares or rehashed genre tropes here. Instead, we have a film that is genuinely interested in scrutinizing our complicated relationship with AI, the pitfalls of constant surveillance and algorithm-based software that utilize behavior mapping, and the true cost of granting almost god-like status to systems that can easily go rogue.
No force in the world can battle the corrupt remnants of a machine set to terrorize and accumulate, all in the name of artifacts and bettering its intelligence, no matter how “artificial” it might seem.