Uncanny Valley (Heller, 2015) is a film that explores seemingly simple ideas and, in the spirit of the best science fiction, takes them to a horrifying extreme. The first idea of the film, and the focus of the first half of the film, is what happens when virtual reality becomes fully, truly immersive. The film opens with interviews with men who have become addicted to VR and have almost entirely lost the ability to function in reality. The ‘VR Dependent’ are portrayed as junkies, living in buildings that are as broken down and decrepit as the men who inhabit them. Yet all the deprivation is interspersed not just with the luscious VR worlds and alien planets of gameplay, but also with gloriously surreal moments of people taking part in VR seemingly floating and tumbling in mid-air – taking ‘getting high’ to a whole new level’ – amid the deprivation of their ‘real’ surroundings. Pushing again and again, against our perception of what is ‘real’ and what is virtual reality, as a support worker walks among our floating friends. The use of visual glitches in both the VR and ‘real’ environments only adds to the sense of unreality, causing the viewer to question the veracity of everything we see and are told.
I can’t really talk about the second central idea of the film, because I don’t want to spoil the twist of the film and if I say a great deal about it, you’ll be able to guess the twist. (The film isn’t subtle in that way, I saw the twist coming, but the pleasure of the film is in the twist of the knife as your suspicions are revealed to be correct.) Suffice to say that it has plenty to say about the gamification of warfare and the use of robots and drones in combat.
It doesn’t pull it’s punches.