The InTEXTigator 2: A Study In Samples short film review

★★

Directed by: #JohnBabu

Written by: #JohnBabu

Starring: #ShannaLea #MichaelMarshall

Film review by William Hemingway


A man and a woman's heads face in different directions over a city skyline while a mobile phone sits between them in the foreground.
Film poster for The InTEXTigator 2

Here we are, it's 2021, and we are firmly embedded in the 21st Century. Sadly there are no flying cars or hover boards just yet but we do have technology that our 20th Century counterparts could only dream of: 70” television screens that are thinner than a cornflake packet, tiny computers that fit into the palm of your hand which you can carry about with you wherever you go, a vast global network of limitless information and connectivity (and porn), cylindrical electronic devices with soothing feminine voices that carry out wishes at your command, and Smart Tech, which like it or not, heralds the forthcoming rise of AI.

Now, however you feel about your car doing the driving for you, or your fridge knowing how well you are eating and ordering food to improve your diet, there's no getting away from the fact that AI is here to stay. Whether this leads to cyborg soldiers or android butlers or hunter-killer Terminators is, as always, down to us humans asking the age old question of, should we do something just because we can? What becomes of us when we give all of our choices and responsibilities away to a 'superior' intelligence?

Luckily we're not there yet, but in The InTEXTigator 2 the Toronto Police Department are surging forward with their new AI super-sleuthing system, rather lazily entitled Sherlock. This one-machine detective squad is online and already following leads to take down the criminal underclass that has so far eluded the long arm of the law. Using the aforementioned Smart Tech that we all carry on our person it's sending out messages and evaluating responses to build profiles and databases with which it can solve the most heinous of crimes. Sadly though, it doesn't know a thing about tact and diplomacy, and so Mrs Olivia Scanie (Lea) gets a message telling her that she could be the next victim of a local serial killer.

We follow the story on our own phone as the text conversations play out and we see how Sherlock questions potential suspect Mr Edward Wayne (Marshall) as well as the potential victim as it builds the case and pieces the clues together. We watch in real time as the humans craft their responses, including misspellings, bad grammar and partial deletions, trying their best not to seem too intruded upon by the unrelenting AI. However, and I don't think I'm giving anything away here considering the only two living characters are a victim and a suspect, the mystery is not a difficult one to solve and soon enough Sherlock has everything it needs to file charges and make an arrest. It's an open and shut case, literally, within ten minutes.

While The InTEXTigator 2 may gain plaudits for it's unique narrative style, designed to be played out on our phones, in portrait mode, and in a manner akin to how it would look were we to be an active participant, what starts off as a novelty quickly becomes a one-trick pony. It's not even that original, with text overlays being a mainstay of dramatic narratives for years and years now (since Hollywood and TV finally moved past flip-top phones). Unfortunately this negates the film's only real selling point and rests the weight of its success firmly on the plot, which as we've already found out, is very thin on the ground.

Shallow inconsistencies also serve to distract the viewer, such as Sherlock, a super-computer AI who communicates solely through text message, not being able to understand text speak, or the identification of knife handles as 'sharp objects' in a video shot. The whole thing feels vaguely reminiscent of a text adventure on an Acorn BBC Micro, complete with lengthy exposition and minimal engagement, and when the director is aiming for something more comparable to future tech that is a damning indictment indeed. If you want a story that's told through lines and lines of text – go read a book instead.