Director – Jon Wright, Screenplay – Mark Stay & Jon Wright, Producers – Ian Flooks, Justin Garak, Steve Milne & Piers Tempest, Photography – Fraser Taggart, Music – Christian Henson, Visual Effects Supervisor – Paddy Eason, Visual Effects – Nvizible, Special Effects Supervisor – Stefano Pepin, Mediator Makeup Effects Design – Paul Hyett, Production Design – Tom McCullagh, Robot Concept Designs – Paul Catling. Production Company – Isle of Man Film/Pinewood Pictures/Umbra Telegraph/BFI/Tempo Productions/Wasted Talent/British Film Company/Embankment Films/Nvizible/Northern Ireland Screen.
Callan McAuliffe (Sean Flynn), Ben Kingsley (Robin Smythe), Gillian Anderson (Kate Flynn), Ella Hunt (Alex), James Tarpey (Nathan), Milo Parker (Connor), Craig Garner (Mediator 452), Steven Mackintosh (Danny Flynn), Tamer Hassan (Wayne), Geraldine James (Monique), Lalor Roddy (Swann), Roy Hudd (Morse Code Martin)
It is three years after Earth has been invaded by alien robots. The populace has been implanted with tracking chips in the back of their heads and given orders to remain indoors. Those that do not stay in are killed by sentry robots. Kate Flynn is a former schoolteacher who looks after several orphan children. The children make the accidental discovery that an electric shock from an old battery will disable the chips for thirteen hours, allowing them free movement. They break out and Kate’s teenage son Sean goes in search of his father’s whereabouts. They are apprehended by the local area leader Robin Smythe, who has designs on Kate. In search of information, Smythe forces Sean into a Deep Scan, which will wipe his memory, only for the youngest Connor to free him with an improvised solution before the scan can be completed. On the run from Smythe and the robots, they follow a series of clues to the hiding place of the resistance and the possible whereabouts of Sean’s father. At the same time, Sean discovers that the Deep Scan implant has left him with the ability to control the robots.
Robot Overlords was the third feature film from Irish director Jon Wright. Wright is shaping up as a genre regular, having previously made Tormented (2009) about a bullied high school kid returned from the dead to seek revenge and the immensely entertaining monster movie Grabbers (2012). Subsequent to this, Wright went on to make the leprechaun film Unwelcome (2022).
Despite a title that makes you immediately think of a tongue-in-cheek B movie – something like Amazon Women on the Moon (1987), Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity (1987), Lobster Man from Mars (1989) and a host of other faux bad B movie titles that came out in the late 1980s/early 1990s – Robot Overlords turns out to be a film that takes itself surprisingly seriously, far more serious indeed than Grabbers was. The tone is less B movie parody and deliberate cheesiness and more of a Young Adult work about the adventures of a group of teens as they discover the strengths that make them the unexpected saviours of the day.
One is constantly reminded of the tv series The Tripods (1984-5) – and before that John Christopher’s trilogy of books. There are a number of recurrent images in both – Earth having been invaded by an alien force led by a vast army of robotic machines; the populace having been given devices attached to their heads that monitor/control them; the young teen heroes who find a means of getting around the control devices and undergo a perilous cross-country journey to find the secret enclave of the resistance.
For a film that takes what you expect to be a cheesy tongue-in-cheek premise and treats it seriously, Robot Overlords is surprisingly engaging. Jon Wright keeps the show moving at a fast pace. The action does become slightly improbable at the end where a mere scan transplant in Callan McAuliffe’s head gives him the ability to not only access and control the robots but even shutdown the machine’s entire network.
The effects are perfectly competent, if not entirely ones that stand up with the output of top-drawer studios. What is particularly striking is the design of the various robots and flying vehicles, which is uniquely different from anything we have had on screen before. Also eye-catching is the makeup on young Craig Gardner as the Mediator, which makes him look exactly like a virtual avatar.
The film has some surprisingly high-profile casting,, including Ben Kingsley slumming it with a working class accent, and Gillian Anderson, whose work has all been in Britain during the last decade, showing effortless class as the school teacher/mother.