Motion Detected Is A Compelling Piece of Contemporary Horror

Courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media and Justin Cook PR

While horror and social commentary have been intertwined since the genre’s very beginning, the execution of that social commentary is almost always hit or miss. Sometimes, a work comes off as ham-fisted and dated, something like the gloriously cheesy Deinfluencer, but in other cases, a work is able to apply its themes in a more universal way that allows it to endure over time, something like Dracula or Frankenstein. Motion Detected, the debut film from Justin Gallaher & Sam Roseme, is a film steeped in anxieties both modern and timeless: trauma, dismissal of women’s concerns, the ever-growing pervasiveness of artificial intelligence and our overreliance on technology, and while it doesn’t dive as deeply into any of these themes as much as I might have liked, it’s a smart, stylish, well-executed thriller that feels like a mix between a haunted house and a home invasion.

Motion Detected is the story of Eva (Natasha Esca), having recently relocated from Mexico City to Los Angeles for some rest and recovery after a near-death encounter with a serial killer who invaded her home. Her new house has seemingly everything she could ask for, but when her husband (Carlo Mendez) is almost immediately called back to Mexico City on business, she quickly finds herself at the mercy of both PTSD and the seemingly malevolent AI that runs her high-tech home security system.

The serial killer from Motion Detected
Courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media and Justin Cook PR

This AI, known as Diabolo, is something straight out of a Black Mirror episode, able to generate lifelike holograms, delete voicemails from Eva’s phone, analyze her dreams and generate images from the recurring flashbacks she suffers from, even absorb living beings into itself. It’s never explicitly stated what reason Diabolo has for tormenting her (something I have mixed feelings about), but it’s an effective antagonist that brings together all of Motion Detected’s themes.

Motion Detected puts most of its weight on Natasha Esca’s performance as Eva—we spend a majority of our screentime with just her, and many of her interactions with other characters are in the form of video calls—and thankfully she more than rises to the occasion. Esca delivers on every ounce of the turmoil Eva is going through: paranoia over the strange happenings and sightings in her house, frustration with the overwhelming security system, helplessness as her fears are dismissed by her therapist and she’s left alone in a strange, increasingly uncomfortable place with her husband back in Mexico City for work, and the comfort she finds in elements of her Mexican heritage. So much of the film hinges on getting us to empathize with Eva and follow along with her increasingly fragile state of mind, and Esca’s performance is solid enough to carry everything that the directors ask of her.

Motion Detected is definitely on the lighter side when it comes to its scares, more Black Mirror than Black Christmas, but it makes up for it with an ever-increasing sense of unease and paranoia. As we find out, Diabolo is even capable of generating false reviews for itself on the internet, and seeing most of the video calls through a system that Diabolo is synced with adds a sense of uncertainty to everything we see. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Diabolo would be capable of faking a video call, forcing the viewer to question if Eva is even talking to her husband or her therapist at all or whether it’s just another of Diabolo’s deceptions.

Natasha hiding in the corner
Courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media and Justin Cook PR

The ending of Motion Detected is…divisive, to say the least. There’s never an explicit motive for the events of the film or Diabolo’s actions, and it’s up in the air as to whether or not Eva deserves her eventual fate. Even after watching the film a couple of times, I’m not sure how I feel about the way things get wrapped up. I certainly don’t mind when a film leaves things on an ambiguous note or when there’s little logic behind the events beyond “sometimes bad sh*t happens for no reason”—after all, one of my all-time favorite horror films is still The Texas Chain Saw Massacre which leans heavily on both of those things.

But Motion Detected’s ending is one that certainly left me wanting more, but it’s hard to explain exactly what I wanted more of. I don’t think the film would have benefitted from a more explicit “everything happened because x” ending, but with the amount of emphasis placed on Eva’s trauma, it almost feels like she’s being punished for what happened to her in Mexico City. It ties into the main issue I have with Motion Detected, that I wish it had dived further into its themes instead of having them feel mostly tangential to the events of the film.

But even with its slightly unsatisfying ending and its surface-level exploration of its themes, Motion Detected is still a compelling slice of contemporary horror, anchored by a hell of a performance by Natasha Esca and an intriguing premise that I hope to see further explored in the horror genre. Motion Detected is available now on Cable VOD and Digital HD.

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Written by Timothy Glaraton

College graduate. Horror enthusiast. Writer of things.

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