Romi - Fantasia World Premiere
Director: Robert Cuffley
Starring: Alexa Barajas, Juan Riedinger, Pavel Kriz, Jamie Shelnitz, Jocelyn Chugg
Written by: Susie Moloney
Produced by: John E. Ferraro, Colin Sheldon
Cinematography by: Patrick McLaughlin
Original Score by: Robert Cuffley
Forced to hide out at a state of the art smart home, a young woman on the run is terrorized by its sinister digital assistant.
It feels like just the right time to release a film like ROMI into the world. With the controversial, whirlwind growth of AI in so many aspects of our lives now, ROMI reminds us to be ever vigilant of technology and the people behind it.
Based on his own Award Winning short from 2019, Robert Cuffley returns with an extended, newly cast version that further explores the invasive nature of modern technology and how dangerous it can truly be, particularly on people with a vulnerable disposition. Enter Maddie (Alexa Barajas - Yellowjackets) an attractive, intelligent young woman who has made a terrible mistake; she is a hit and run driver and now at the behest of her politician Mother, she must hold up in a super modern "smart home" tricked out to the nines and operated by a virtual assistant known as ROMI. Maddie is extremely vulnerable. She is taking pills and her overpowering guilt is difficult to deal with. But moving into this new house has settled her a little bit.
Upon arriving she is welcomed by Hertig (Pavel Kriz), the man in charge of the cameras. He explains the ins and outs of how ROMI works and initiates Maddie into the "system". And soon Maddie begins to find her way with the help of Barkley (Juan Riedinger) the man responsible for coding ROMI. He's closer to her age than Hertig is so the two bond a little quicker and better too.
Things begin to take a turn for the worse when Maddie suspects that ROMI doesn't like her. Her account keeps getting rejected and switched to a previous account held by a woman called Irina, Hertig's missing wife. Maddie feels like she is being cut off from ROMI all while experiencing terrifying visions brought on by her overpowering guilt. But are these visions actually visions at all or is ROMI taunting and haunting Maddie?
Cuffley's film is smart and works a little bit like a ghost story if truth be told. As the film progresses we find out more vital information about the previous tenant Irina, who actually voices ROMI and as Maddie begins to spiral the film leads us to believe that Irina, now acting as ROMI, is out to eradicate Maddie from existence.
I wasn't totally sold on the cast in the beginning but it doesn't take long for them to win you over. There's a bit of hokey CGI as the film opens but for the most part it flows at a nice pace hitting certain important markers along the way and setting up what should've been an intriguing finale. With that being said the direction that the film goes in is formulaic and sadly left me rolling my eyes a little bit. It ends up submitting to the toxic masculinity trope.
Despite the mechanical nature of the plot direction as we get deep into the third act, the film does manage to redeem itself with a cool reveal and a fairly satisfying resolution.
- Gavin Logan
'ROMI' received its World Premiere at Fantasia '23 on August 7th