For as long as technology has been in existence, so has the fear of its expansion into unknown territories. Movies under the techno-thriller genre have explored the subject of technology becoming the enemy of humanity whether through its own intelligence or in the hands of nefarious people.
The newest techno-thriller to hit the screen is Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi, which shows how technology that serves us can also turn against us. Angela (Zoë Kravitz) discovers that the company she works for might be involved in the cover-up of a crime. Smart and timely, it’s the latest addition in a long line of human vs. machine stories.
Enemy of The State (1998)
When the video of a congressman’s murder lands in the hands of an unsuspecting lawyer, he finds himself targeted by government operatives. That’s the premise of Enemy of the State, which stars Will Smith as the man on the run and Gene Hackman as a former communications expert who helps him.
Blending political conspiracy with government surveillance, the movie ups the ante when it comes to the paranoia of being watched. It’s a highly entertaining, fast-paced thriller that still feels relevant now.
Minority Report (2002)
Based on a highly influential short story by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report is a masterful take on police surveillance. Set in the year 2054, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) heads a police department that catches criminals based on precognition by three psychics. He ends up being accused of a crime and has to clear his name.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Minority Report is an exciting mix of futuristic science fiction and murder mystery. Complex and evocative, it asks questions about destiny, free will, and whether the choices you make are your own.
Eagle Eye (2008)
What would you do if you receive a call from someone who can see your every move? Eagle Eye explores this idea in a high-octane thriller starring Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan. Two strangers are forced to carry out a dangerous mission in exchange for the safety of their loved ones.
There’s something terrifying about the anonymous voice giving instructions, along with its ability to control the characters via technological means. While Eagle Eye stretches credulity at times, it’s still a compelling take on cyber espionage in military operations.
Searching has a father looking for his missing daughter by finding clues through her electronic devices. Set entirely on computer screens and smartphones, the audience sees the same view as the main character David (John Cho) while the action unfolds in real-time.
Through exceptional editing and an incredible amount of detail, Searching examines the hidden secrets of online lives. Its screens-only gimmick works well because of the strong emotional core of the father-daughter mystery that makes you hope for a happy ending.
The Net (1995)
Just like in Kimi, The Net features a reclusive female protagonist who stumbles upon a secret and has to get to the bottom of the mystery to save herself. Sandra Bullock plays a system analyst in trouble after her identity is erased when she receives a mysterious disc.
While the movie’s description of technology might seem outdated now, the theme of online security and identity theft remains meaningful. The Net shows the difficulty in fighting an entire organization when the targeted person has no support system in real life.
The Invisible Man (2020)
Instead of focusing on the title character, The Invisible Man portrays a woman harassed by an unseen presence. After leaving her abusive ex-boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) experiences strange events. He is reported to be dead, but she believes his optics engineering skill is behind her disturbances.
The creative camera work in the movie heightens the terror, particularly in unsettling scenes from the invisible figure’s point of view. It’s a harrowing survival story where one woman has to fight for freedom against an enemy she cannot even see.
Ex Machina (2014)
A computer programmer is chosen by his CEO to take part in an experiment to assess a humanoid robot but finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina is a stylish exploration of artificial intelligence and human consciousness.
Most of the movie takes place in one location – a secluded glass house in the woods – to further stoke the claustrophobic situation for the characters. The movie’s combination of powerhouse acting and outstanding visual effects is mesmerizing to watch.
Can online games be dangerous? Nerve is an adrenaline-fueled thriller about an online truth-or-dare game where players are encouraged to participate in risky dares voted on by the watchers. A high school teen (Emma Roberts) plays the game until she realizes that her life is in peril.
What makes the movie stands out is its clever depiction of social media compulsion and peer pressure. It shows the reasons why teenagers seek comfort in the online space but also the dangerous ways their trust can be exploited.
What happens when a technophobe has no choice but to rely on technology? Upgrade dives into this dilemma when auto mechanic Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) ends up paralyzed after a brutal attack that also left his wife dead. Then a billionaire implants a chip called STEM in Grey’s body to control his motor functions, which sparks his desire for revenge.
Grey’s reluctance to give in to his artificial system until he discovers STEM’s advantages is fascinating to watch. Gory and packed with action, it’s a violent revenge fantasy that somehow manages to humanize both the person and the tech.
The Circle (2017)
In The Circle, Mae (Emma Watson) joins a tech company headed by an influential CEO (Tom Hanks). She willingly supports the company’s all-seeing program that can find anyone through real-time videos, which eventually leads to shocking consequences.
The Circle feels apt in this age of instant videos and social media updates where information is shared without filters. The downside to online gratification is shown through Mae’s lack of privacy and loss of human connection. It will make you think twice before posting that Instagram photo.
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