The era of smart tech is upon us in horror films. Scream (2022) showed a character fighting off her attacker with a smart lock. Video surveillance in Paranormal Activity led to truly grueling scares. Meg3n embraced a killer AI doll and seems poised for sequels. The fears of AI and a digital world are primed to take over the horror landscape. In that sense, Motion Detected, a new thriller from directors Justin Gallaher and Sam Roseme should be primed for success. Unfortunately, some clunky exposition and a lack of scares leaves Motion Detected as an ambitious but unsuccessful experience.
When a family goes missing, their smart house becomes available to rent. Eva (Natasha Esca) and her husband, Miguel (Carlo Mendez), move into the house. They left Mexico City after Eva was attacked in their home. With the new “El Diablo” security system, Eva hopes to feel safe. Yet there’s more to the system than she realizes.
While the premise of Motion Detected certainly opens doors for scares, it begins stumbling relatively early. The choice to show a “de-rez” image of a child gives up the game early. We never believe Eva becomes unmoored from reality. We know the home system somehow stole a child. This removes any tension from the psychological thriller aspect of the plot.
Furthermore, this becomes an issue when the scares also fall short. The video footage of the child wandering through the house never comes across as scary. Furthermore, we do not see enough interactions outside the house to show how far the paranoia has progressed. Instead, Motion Detected remains focused in the house. This might have created a feeling of claustrophobia, but the positions of the camera make the house feel shockingly expansive.
Another major issue facing Motion Detected stems from a lack of ideas. It’s not inconceivable that a person who has extreme PTSD would move to a new city. However, why do the home invader, and the home security system, share the same name? This is just not logical, even if you want to buy the ideas on hand.
Perhaps most frustratingly, Motion Detected wants to allude to voyeurism and surveillance as the enemy. Yet it chooses to create a murky storyline about dangerous AI that seemingly pulls characters into its world via Tron-style disintegration. Again, this idea does not feel new or fresh.
The performances in Motion Detected range from fine to bad, but no one brings anything special to the screen. Unfortunately for the actors, there’s not much to pull from in the screenplay. A limited budget hurt the visual splendor of Motion Detected, but it might have overcome that issue with stronger writing. Sadly, it cannot sustain its exciting premise.