Latency Blends Reality and Video Game Fantasy

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Artificial intelligence is everywhere these days. It’s used in all sorts of industries, many of us have digital assistants like Siri and Alexa in our homes, and teachers have to vigilantly look out for papers written by ChatGPT. It almost feels like Skynet is right around the corner, so it should come as no surprise that the last half decade or so has produced more stories about this technology than ever. Movies like Upgrade, the recent Chucky remake, and M3GAN have all cast AI as a villainous force with a mind of its own, and from the looks of it, this trend isn’t slowing down. 2024 has already treated us to the smart home thriller T.I.M., and now, only a few months later, we’re getting Latency, another horror flick about the dangers of artificial intelligence.

Latency was written and directed by James Croke, and it stars Sasha Luss and Alexis Ren. The film centers around Hana, a professional video gamer who suffers from extreme agoraphobia. Her condition is so bad she literally never steps outside her apartment, so she relies on her friend Jen to buy groceries and get her mail. It’s a pretty depressing situation, but it seems to work.

However, Hana’s entire world soon takes a turn for the worse. She’s asked to test out the Omnia, a new piece of AI equipment that’s supposed to boost people’s video game skills, and when it first arrives in the mail, it’s amazing. This tech gives Hana the edge she needs to blow her competition out of the water, but it eventually starts to blur the line between fantasy and reality, causing Hana to suspect that the Omnia is a sinister force trying to control her mind.

For about the first half hour or so, I quite enjoyed Latency. This part of the movie just introduces us to its two main characters, and for the most part, I had fun watching them go about their lives. Let’s start with Hana. She’s played excellently by Sasha Luss, and the actress totally nails the two sides of this woman’s personality.

Two women looking at something
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

When Hana is playing video games or hanging out with Jen, she seems totally confident and super fun, so you’d never guess that she has a debilitating phobia. But when something triggers her, she’s a completely different person. She turns into an absolute wreck who’s just about scared of her own shadow, and her fear and anxiety almost become tangible. You totally believe that this woman is psychologically incapable of stepping out into the world, so you can’t help but sympathize with her.

On the flipside, actress Alexis Ren’s role isn’t nearly as meaty. Jen is basically just a typical woman in her 20s or 30s, so Ren doesn’t get to flex her acting muscles very much. But she does a fine job with the material she’s given, and she has great chemistry with her co-star, so she still manages to make Jen a pleasure to watch whenever she’s on screen.

The first half hour of Latency is all about those two characters, but once we hit the 30-minute mark or so, the horror finally begins creeping to the fore. It starts out slow, and then it builds to a crescendo that ultimately explodes in the final few scenes. Now, that’s often a recipe for success in this genre, but unfortunately, the execution here is simply not up to par.

Just about every scare in Latency is a bland cliché we’ve seen numerous times before. For example, we see something come out of a computer screen and attack Hanna, there’s a scene where she looks in a mirror and her reflection does something spooky, and every once in a while we see a demonic-looking woman standing eerily in the background. Now, if you’re new to horror, you might find those moments exhilarating, but if you’ve seen more than three other genre flicks, they probably won’t induce anything other than a bored yawn.

A woman looking at the camera
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

To be fair, worn-out tropes like these aren’t necessarily bad. Some films, like The Conjuring, execute them so well you don’t care how unoriginal they are, but unfortunately, Latency isn’t one of them. These scares feel every bit as tired and overused as they truly are, and that just kills the movie.

To make matters worse, there are also a few things in this film that don’t entirely make sense. Most notably, there are a number of scenes where the demonic-looking woman shows up without being seen by Hana, and there are even a couple of times when she’s in a completely different room. But if this is all just the AI device controlling Hana’s mind, it’s tough to see how that’s possible. The rules simply aren’t consistent, and that makes the horror even less effective.

All that being said, even when the scares go downhill, the performances never falter. In fact, as the movie goes on, Sasha Luss gets even better. As the Omnia increases its control over Hana’s mind, the woman descends into a sleep-deprived stupor, and Luss makes you believe that her character really is losing her grip on reality. You can just see it in her face the whole time, so if the rest of the movie were better, you’d be totally hooked by this character’s decline.

But unfortunately, that’s not the case, so even an excellent lead performance can’t save Latency. This is just a lackluster AI thriller with a whole bunch of mediocre scares, so if you’re looking for something good to watch, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Latency is set to hit theaters on June 14.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters. You can find him on Twitter @jpnunezhorror.

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