Did you know that every writer has their favourite tools in making the magic happen? From those who enjoy the feeling of pen on paper to those who love the clack of a typewriter. Personally, I would feel lost without my Macbook, its very presence linked to my writing comfort and creativity. So, just imagine the trauma if you were torn away from the method of writing that works for you. The overlords of publishing sitting above you, sending you a strange Sarah Jane Adventure-Esque monster of a computer. Then imagine the machine in question had the ability to change your writing as you type. Its A.I driven brain making its own decisions on the content and style of your work. This is the premise of Paul Hyatt’s new film Peripheral.
Bobbi Johnson (Hannah Arterton) is a household name following her controversial first novel. The subject of her book lighting a fire under the class system, while leading many of the down-trodden to find a new, passionate yet often dangerous voice. However, how do you follow a book that has led to such social upheaval with equally challenging themes? This remains a concern for both Bobbi and her publishers as she sits penniless struggling to find the voice she once had as a drug user. Her old typewriter and trusty writing companion sitting silently in a void of inspiration and commitment. Meanwhile, the proceeds from her first novel have merely paid her debts. Her life now spiralling into poverty, as the electricity is finally cut off in her flat.
Facing the cold and dark of her flat, Bobbi is given an ultimatum by her publishers; ditch the typewriter and accept a state of the art computer, and we will pay your bills. Or decline and sit in the cold and dark until inspiration comes your way. Bobbi reluctantly accepts the former option; a whole host of boxes and screens descending on her doorstep a few days later. However, as her work progresses and more and more boxes arrive, Bobbi finds her own identity slowly consumed by technology, alongside her ability to create.
Writer Dan Schaffer’s trajectory is marked early in proceedings, as technology, Artificial Intelligence and humanity converge. The ever-increasing use of smart tech in managing our daily life sitting front and centre; the powers behind the tech alters we pray at, merely gathering more and more information on every one of us. The very freedoms we pride ourselves on creating, slowly consumed in an online world of information, misinformation and fantasy. Therefore the themes at play in Perpherial are both timely and essential. But, unfortunately, also too big for the story at hand.
Peripheral has a glaring problem in taking these themes somewhere new and creative on-screen. With much of the film’s potential lost at sea, with poor characterisation and lazy cliches. That does not mean Peripheral lacks shock value or fascinating nuggets of potential. And as a short feature, it could have offered a delightful Dark Mirror style commentary on technology, social freedom, and capitalism. However, when expanded to a feature-length film, it loses much of its potential as it scrabbles to find a mass-market hook. The mission to create significant audience appeal, ultimately damaging the core themes of interest.
But despite this weakness, Peripheral is also to be commended on both its style and cinematography. The vibrant reds and blues of technology interfacing with the warmer tones of humanity. While a claustrophobic atmosphere relentlessly pushes the audience into the darkest corners of isolation. At times creating an almost hallucinogenic aesthetic. Meanwhile, brief but fascinating discussions on creativity, art and tech do occasionally find a clear voice.
However, the bottom line is that Peripheral is a victim of its own need to appeal to a mass audience. Its core themes lost in an ocean of competing ideas. The divide between science fiction and horror never clearly defined as it bounces around more than ‘Skippy’ on heat. And this is a real shame, as there are some significant and exciting themes lost in the process.
Director: Paul Hyett