Simulant (2023) sci-fi thriller has some nice ideas

Director: April Mullen
Cast: Sam Worthington, Simu Liu, Jordana Brewster, Robbie Amell, Alicia Sanz, Christine L. Nguyen
Running time: 95 mins

Directed by April Mullen, this Canadian sci-fi thriller has some nice ideas and explores some compelling themes, though it’s also a little unfocused and never quite delivers the expected robo-thrills.

The film is set in an all-too-near future where humanoid Simulants have been integrated into society, albeit a society where they are essentially subservient to their human owners. One such owner is recently widowed Faye (Fast and Furious’ Jordana Brewster), who reveals to her husband Evan (Robbie Amell) that he is, in fact, a Simulant, and the real Evan died in a car crash.

Through trying to effectively break up with Evan, Faye leaves him at an apartment building, where he meets Casey (Shang Chi’s Simu Liu), a mysterious engineer, who promises to tinker with Evan’s machinery and make him more human, so that he can win Faye back. Meanwhile, Casey becomes the target of Kessler (Avatar’s Sam Worthington), an investigating agent for Artificial Intelligence Compliance Enforcement (AICE), who correctly suspects that Casey has some sort of free-the-robots agenda.

The script – by Ryan Christopher Churchill – explores a number of increasingly relevant themes, especially given the current fears about the rise of A.I. The central theme, on the question of what it means to be truly human, is a familiar one from countless other android movies, but there’s an intriguing degree of sympathy for our robo-friends here, which adds a welcome note of ambiguity.

Accordingly, the film’s most moving scene involves a young female android named Esme (Alicia Sanz) getting forcibly reprogrammed. However, the emotional impact is lessened somewhat, because we don’t get to spend enough time with Esme beforehand.

The film has several nice ideas, and Mullen pulls off a number of shock reveals. Similarly, the world-building is convincing, though there is the occasional slip-up, such as the fact that a powerful EMP is let off at one point, and yet the sky is still filled with clearly electronic drones.

The main issue is that the film keeps promising some sort of robo-uprising, and yet no such robo-uprising materialises. This is a shame, because at a certain point, you start to feel like a robo-uprising would really improve things quite dramatically.

The performances are solid throughout. Liu is good value as Casey, who always seems one step ahead of the rest of the plot, while Amell totally nails the part of a good-looking sexbot suddenly forced to actually think about things. Similarly, Worthington is significantly less wooden here than he has been in several other movies, while Brewster is clearly enjoying getting more to do on screen than she has in a while.

Ultimately, the film’s lack of focus means the broader plot about the role of androids in society and potential robo-revolution never really kicks in – indeed, it’s easy to imagine this movie as the pilot to a TV show that never made it to air. However, there’s enough here in terms of robo-twists and turns to make this worth your while, not least an amusingly gratuitous closing shot that makes no sense whatsoever in context.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Matthew Turner


  • Matthew Turner

    A lifelong film fanatic, Matthew Turner (FilmFan1971) is a London-based critic and author, as well as the co-host of Fatal Attractions, a podcast on erotic thrillers. His favourite film is Vertigo and he hasn't missed an episode of EastEnders since 1998.