Remember the good ol’ days when horror movies and even cartoons like Scooby-Doo implored us to be on the lookout for the real harbingers of terror? The hyperbolic extent of invasive AI evil that films have now preoccupied themselves with often makes me wonder if the real, albeit much less fatalistic, byproducts of pattern mapping and, to a great capacity, self-governing technology isn’t a scaled-down manifestation of the illusory fear. Horror is clearly not done provoking the very concept of an all-powerful AI into inflicting its worst on people. Justin Gallaher and Sam Roseme’s Motion Detected delicately repurposes multiple age-old haunted house-lone victim tropes and infuses them with all-the-rage technology paranoia. The result is a sporadically upsurging sense of fright that is gratuitously tamed by the overindulged cliches. And even then, Motion Detected mindfully treads the line between the threadbare trope of a PTSD-stricken woman in distress and a perplexing chain of terror contrived by a rogue security system. Let’s see how or why a rogue security system would torment an innocent woman.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Motion Detected’?
While tropey horrors often target a disconsolate protagonist or family and compel them to opt for questionable real estate choices, such is not the case with Motion Detected. Here we have an evidently well-off couple jumping the gun and buying a resort-like house without concerning themselves with any background check whatsoever. Easily swayed by the sly real estate agent, the his and her set of bathtubs, and most importantly, the oddly named state-of-the-art security system, Eva and Miguel are quick to fall for what’s probably the first house they’ve seen after moving to America. But there’s another reason why they’re so hasty about moving into the house in the “safe” neighborhood right away. Eva’s on the run from the dread that hasn’t relented ever since something horrifying happened to her in Mexico. She may not be technologically savvy enough to figure her way around the all-pervading security system, Diablo Controls, but she feels safe enough knowing that the steadfast system would thwart any break-in attempts—even when Miguel’s work whisks him away to Mexico for a whole week. But dealing with Diablo Controls demands more than swift clickety-clacks and remembering the passcodes. Eva’s life in and around the house is soon made increasingly frustrating by the security system going on the fritz. Interrupting her days with eerie motion detection alarms and triggering her PTSD when having to stay alone has already been hard enough for her; Diablo Controls practically takes over her life in the worst possible ways.
Who Was The Little Girl In The Opening Sequence?
Diablo Controls going haywire doesn’t just stop at the random alarms and the door alarm mishaps. The creepiest “glitch” in the system is the strange figure of a little girl running up and down the stairs. Eva’s even attempted to touch the figure while keeping an eye on the screen, but the manifestation really did seem to be an odd bug in the system. What we know, and Eva doesn’t know, is that the creepy figure is the same little girl who was attacked by an unseen entity. The agent who sold her the house very conveniently left out the part where the last family who’d lived there vanished from the face of the earth. It’s only when her nosey neighbor brings up the previous owners that Eva learns of their bizarre fate. The little girl in the opening sequence belonged to the last family who was thought to have disappeared. It’s even more concerning that the Diablo agent assigned to Eva knows of the figure of a young girl that’s been showing up on the feed even before Eva complains about it. While the agent does try to make light of the situation by calling the ghostly figure a glitch caused by the system cache, Eva is fully aware that there’s more to it than meets the eye.
What Haunts Eva?
From the very first moment we started to get to know Eva, we’ve been supplied with enough hints that suggest that something blood-curdling happened to her when she lived in Mexico. A sinister serial killer, namely El Diablo, terrorized the country and butchered countless people before attacking Eva. But the weird part is that El Diablo decided to let her go and, on the very same night, killed two more women. Eva hasn’t been able to make sense of why her life was spared, but the scar left on her mind after the life-altering and acutely traumatizing incident has since made her paranoia and PTSD go berserk. The stress of such a big move combined with the anxiety caused by Diablo Controls proves to be too heavy a burden on Eva’s mind, and her nightmares about El Diablo not only come back with a vengeance but also turn into an everyday battle for her. The psychiatrist who had helped Eva get a handle on her paranoia and PTSD-riddled visions fails to guide her back to the system and routine that can help her calm herself.
What Happens To Eva In The End?
In a sea of sci-fi and technological horrors that would rather we go back to the Stone Age, Motion Detected cherry-picks disturbingly relevant issues with the latest algorithm-based services that we’re quick to submit our entire lives to. In a way, the relatively minor inconveniences caused by Diablo Controls prove that smart systems aren’t without their limitations. For instance, Eva’s security system can’t even get rid of the routine and behavioral patterns of its last owners to make space for Eva. Her sleep is interrupted every morning right as the clock strikes six because that’s when the last owner used to start their day. Another trouble with AI, manifesting in a majorly exaggerated manner in Motion Detected for the sake of the drama, is what follows when you allow an algorithmic program to map your entire lifestyle and basically let it get to know you intimately. How disturbingly invasive Diablo Controls can actually be is aptly represented by its agent breaking into the house with every excuse and never actually helping Eva.
It’s not just that these systems are designed to invade your privacy the second you tick a couple of boxes that promise you personalized assistance; the cons of giving an unknown source a free pass to access your most personal information are what Motion Detected aims to warn you about. The film doesn’t spend much time with a gradual progression of Diablo Controls’ wicked quirks. What strikes us as terrifying is that the security system has a gateway to her nightmares and the fears that cripple her. Diablo Controls exhaustively reads her body language, her heart rate, and even her triggers to concoct just the right set of horrors for Eva. It’s only when Eva goes on the neighborhood network and looks through all the same 5-star reviews for Diablo Controls that people left behind that she even begins to consider that the system may be even more corrupted and sinister than she thought. The same set of words being used in the reviews does make one wonder if they aren’t left by bots or paid reviewers. Her suspicion is only elevated when a neighbor, on the verge of losing his mind, cautions her against staying in the house. He’s convinced that it’s too late for him to get out, but Eva can still save herself. So far, Eva’s doctor has been trying to convince her that it’s her PTSD triggers that’ve been making her see things that aren’t there. And it’s not for the lack of trying that Eva’s still set on believing that there’s something very wrong with Diablo Controls and the house she lives in. She’s even disregarded the inexplicably broken coffee mug and the mysteriously opened fridge as random and, for the most part, harmless occurrences. But when her neighbor’s house goes up in deadly flames right after he spills the beans to Eva, she has no choice but to believe that her suspicions are true. Moreover, there have been multiple break-in attempts in the neighborhood, but for some reason, none of the footage reveals a clear face of the assailant.
Diablo Controls, like a true, conniving antagonist, has isolated Eva and has been attacking her with impressively personalized sets of triggers. The system had also taken the liberty of deleting a voicemail sent by her husband apologizing for not being able to be back by the day that he promised. Cooking a grand meal and setting up a nice table for her husband’s return, only to receive a call from him and hear that he won’t be back—and Eva’s completely out of sorts in rage and frustration. Caught up in a whirlwind of trying to gaslight herself into believing that it’s all in her mind and batting off the clear physical manifestations of the terror, Eva doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not anymore. What she’d been thinking were mere nightmares were actually Diablo Controls materializing the figure of El Diablo and having him torment her. No amount of sharing ritualistic shots of alcohol with the idol of Santa Muerte keeps her safe from the entity that resembles the serial killer she once evaded. Her husband’s letting her know that El Diablo has been killed by the Mexican police only baffles her even further. It takes her a while to realize that the El Diablo that’s been coming after her in the house is being sequenced by her security system. But by the time she sees him materializing out of electric waves, he’s already coming after her with a knife.
The second Eva makes up her mind about the source of her torment, she rips out the wires and dismantles the machine to save herself. El Diablo does disappear for the time being, but there’s one thing that Eva didn’t take into consideration. For a system as sophisticated as Diablo Controls, there will certainly be backup generators powering it even when the main source of power is cut off. The backup power waking up the machine also means that El Diablo can go after Eva again, and this time, luck isn’t her best friend. Making up the singular obscure part of the movie, Eva wakes up fresh and happy the next day after being stabbed by El Diablo the night before. The ending sequence, however, quietly points towards the real horror that Diablo Controls has been inflicting on its owners. The reason why Miguel can’t see Eva even though she’s standing right before him is that she has been sucked into the system the same way that little girl was. Diablo Controls fishes out people’s worst fears and uses an algorithm-made embodiment of the same to capture its victims and make them a part of its code.
The family that lived there before Eva and Miguel got their hands on the place didn’t disappear after all. They’re entrapped in the same system that promised them all-around protection. Diablo Controls thoroughly studied Eva’s nightmares to understand what or who she was running from in order to traumatize and rip her apart on the inside. El Diablo was made to terrorize her slowly, in phases. And the slow-burn haunting only made Eva’s fear grow tenfold. Eva’s fate is a fitting metaphor for the horror people welcome into their lives when they share every little detail about themselves with systems they don’t know a lot about. Motion Detected takes “being run by algorithms” too literally and orchestrates a cautionary tale of horror that is meant for people who don’t think twice before ticking the “I agree” box on the terms and conditions page. It is also critical of the kind of control we allow AI-run systems to have over us. The very volatile concept of AI itself has people on edge about the pitfalls of having their lives made oddly easy by something that mimics human behavioral patterns. All the “but, to what end?” and “what if it gains sentience?” will continue to be a fiery matter of discussion until another epoch-making discovery replaces AI. All we can hope is that we make it there in one piece.