2036 Origin Unknown – A Smart, Engaging Mystery – Review

Science Fiction is my favourite type of media. It’s range from things like Star Wars and Independence Day all the way to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon makes it one makes it an incredibly wide and inclusive genre, capable of telling all sorts of stories in all sorts of ways from the muted thoughtful storytelling and deep breaths of Blade Runner to the obvious and fantastical like District 9.

2036 Origin Unknown is a 2018 Sc-Fi Thriller starring Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) and Steven Cree (Outlander), directed by Hasraff Dulull and written by Gary Hall. Its main plot concerns the finding of a strange Cube on the surface of Mars and the relationship between Mack (Sackhoff), who lost her father on a failed mission to Mars some years previous, and ARTI (Cree), an AI that could be close to surpassing humans.

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To start of this is a low budget sci-fi feature, and most of it takes place in the Mission Control where Mack and ARTI are stationed, with action playing out on screens, with some cuts to the surface of Mars so we can see the events unfold ourselves. And this creates a kind of claustrophobic feeling and empathises the main thing this film is about, the relationship between Mack and ARTI, and how we view AI. Is it the possible equal to humanity that will help us reach the level we need to as a species? Or is it the thing that replaces us? With real life computers becoming smarter and as we become more reliant on them in our every day lives, these are questions worth asking, and I subject I always enjoy seeing get played out on screen, and it’s something we have seen before in films including the masterpiece 2001 and the recent Ex Machina.

How does it stack compared to those? Well, it’s not quite there, but saying a film ‘isn’t quite’ 2001 is like saying your burger isn’t quite a fillet steak. Sometimes a burger is just what you need. And what 2036 is, is a smart fantastically performed well written, enjoyable sci-fi thriller. There’s nothing really here for me to complain about. So, what did I like?

First up I want to give a huge round of applause to Katee Sackhoff who is the only person on screen for most of the film, and she crushes it. She’s instantly likeable, demands your attention onscreen with a commanding presence when needed and believably vulnerable when scenes need for her to be so. She pulls it all off with such an ease and I’m left wondering why she isn’t one of the biggest stars in sci-fi right now. I want to see Katee Sackhoff in every sci-fi film. I need her to star alongside Sigourney Weaver and Tessa Thompson in something. Can Katee Sackhoff star in a new Blade Runner film? She’d kill it.

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Next up is the other performances in this film, Steven Cree is unfortunately overshadowed by Sackhoff but he deserves some credit here for giving this robot a great voice. That may sound sarcastic in a way, but I listen to/read/watch a lot of robot-based media and this voice is perfect for a robot butler. Cree gives ARTI this constant chipper and happy voice that we would give AI and without a performance like that the entire relationship between ARTI and Mack doesn’t work. I want Steven Cree to voice my future robot butler/Giant Mecha AI, please. Ray Fearson and Julie Cox round out the rest of the cast and unfortunately, they just aren’t given enough time to really do anything and feel like they are just there to help process the plot along. But that’s the nature of this kind of film.

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Dulull comes from a history of Visual Effects and that really comes across in this film. It’s really got a great visual style to it, the shots of ships flying through space and the Rover going through Mars are really well composed and put together. Certain shots would make amazing desktop backgrounds and there are clear homages to the likes of 2001 that I really appreciate. The script by Hall is punchy with some great character moments that move the script along. Most of the momentum in this film comes from the characters rather than happenstance or stuff out of their control and that gives the decisions they make real weight.

I doubt this film will make you reconsider AI and the nature of humanity. But it’s 95 minutes of smart, engaging mystery with fantastic performances and twists I’ll be stealing at my next D&D game. I’d highly recommend checking it out.

2036 Origin Unknown is released in the UK on DVD and Digital HD like iTunes on August 13th, via KEW Media.

A Smart, Engaging Mystery
Leigh Jones

Leigh Jones

Video Editor and film buff. Looking to preserve the world of cinema for future generations