Space marine Moses “Mo” Baxter gets his hands on a broken cyborg from a nomad and returns to his girlfriend Jill with it as a present after his long absence. Loving the cyborg skull, artist Jill uses it as part of the sculpture she’s working on. That night, the cyborg, a model known as Mark 13, reactivates and rebuilds itself before going on a blood thirsty rampage to kill all humans in its immediate vicinity.
Based on the 2000AD short story SHOK! by Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill, HARDWARE is a post-apocalyptic robot slasher movie injected with political commentary. Set in a scorched, dry and barron future, society is on the brink of destruction. Nuclear radiation is a real threat to the citizens of America and with the Government implementing laws regarding the number of children each family can have, the future of the human race is looking bleak.
Mo’s return home to his girlfriend after a long period away is met with resentment from Jill. Alone and with a silent stalker, Jill feels vulnerable in her bunker-like apartment which is secured by a coded entrance system, the apartment building watchmen and CCTV. Though nothing can really gain access through the heavily reinforced door without her approval, the problems lie when the threat is already inside the apartment with her…
It’s not suprising that HARDWARE was based on a 2000AD short story, with many of the comics, particularly Judge Dredd, set in a poor, desolate and desperate future such as this. With all the metalwork involved in the film, from the sets to Jill’s artwork and to the droid that Mo acquires, the film has a real cyberpunk quality to it mixed with a post-apocalyptic western. The film’s score, an acoustic western vibe mixed with Public Image Ltd, really captures the gritty heart of this sci-fi along with Iggy Pop’s radio DJ, Angry Bob, who’s upbeat pessimism about the state of the world is rather entertaining given the content.
Dylan McDermott’s character Mo comes off a little wooden in the movie, but his character isn’t really given much to do except play the provider role. Mo’s sidekick Shades, played by John Lynch, is the light-hearted and comedic character, providing the laughs in the movie. The lead character, besides the Mark 13 droid, is Jill played by Stacey Travis. Jill is quite an independent woman but has insecurities. A future without hope leaves very little ambition for Jill, other than her sculptures which represent the state of the world, and she spends a lot of the time smoking weed, no doubt to escape the hell hole that she’s in. Whilst the TV and radio reports the crisis of the world each and every day, the full realisation of the Government’s power over its citizens is only fully realised once she comes to face to face with the reactivated droid.
The main plot of HARDWARE is actually rather short and it takes quite a while to get to the meat of the film. When the action eventually arrives though, it’s quite a dark, grisly and frightening experience. Mark my words, the Mark 13 droid is out for blood and isn’t shy about using the tools it’s equipped with, which leaves enough for horror fans to enjoy too.
Stylistically, HARDWARE is a piece of art. It’s many layers, including set design, costumes and droid character design, are remarkable to view on-screen. Combine these with the slick cinematography, editing and audio and you have yourself quite a genius piece of filmmaking. The story, however, just doesn’t pack as quite a punch as you’d like it to. I feel HARDWARE would work better as a short film, especially as many of the early scenes in the movie feel dragged out to flesh out the running time. Nevertheless, it deserves its place in cult cinema.