Let’s Be Evil (dir. Martin Owen, 2016) – Three chaperones are hired to supervise some gifted children, who live and learn through augmented reality glasses in an underground controlled facility.
An inventive concept starts off strong but ultimately proves embryonic, delivering neither satire nor thrills.
It is not difficult to believe the future that Let’s Be Evil envisions. After all, the new generation already spends most days wired up to their devices, preferring the screen glare to the sun. Then, it is not difficult to imagine either, the power that big tech corporations wield over youths. It is a scary thought. Google was even once impelled to assure us of their corporate morals in their motto, Don’t Be Evil.
A play on that very slogan, Let’s Be Evil sees these fears realised, as technology is used to cultivate youths into obedient learning machines. In what is known as the Posterity Program, gifted children are raised in a high-tech facility, where their worldview is controlled through artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Automation fully manages their strict regime of study, sleep, repeat.
All is routine, until the arrival of their facilitators Jenny (Elizabeth Morris), Tiggs (Kara Tointon), and Darby (Elliot James Langridge). A world of data introduces the kids to redefine playtime, in which the adults become unwilling participants. These dangerous games unfold entirely through the perspectives of the trio’s AR glasses.
The futuristic screens not only lend visual splendour. As guided by the virtual AI Arial (Jamie Bernadette), they create individual versions of reality, prompting mistrust and paranoia. More foreboding lies in the artificial setting, mostly lit in garish neon, bringing out the allure and consequent entrapment of technology.
But this is no Black Mirror. While the elements tease a potential cult classic, the big ideas frustratingly do not amount to anything substantial. A strong start to the high-concept thriller builds to a weak middle, during which plenty of time is spent in the dark. Chocked full of flickering lights and distant screams, the 80-minute run time soon feels much longer than it is.
Conceived on mild thematic ambition, the shallow screenplay ends up delivering neither intelligent satire, nor effective thrills. The shadowy presence of killer children fails to convey true danger at any point. Part of the problem lies with the low stakes, in stilted portrayals of characters that we never come to care about.
Low on suspense and threat, the drawn-out third act easily falls apart. A fun twist comes too little, too late. Granted that original concepts are hard to come by, Let’s Be Evil finds defeat in its poor execution, nearing but never quite finding its spark.