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Movie Review: Faulty Logic Betrays An Intriguing Premise In Gallaher & Roseme’s “MOTION DETECTED”

Thursday, May 18, 2023 | Reviews, Vile VOD


Starring Natasha Esca, Katelyn MacMullen, Roland Buck III
Written and Directed by Justin Gallaher and Sam Roseme
Asterlight Production | Freestyle Digital Media

The role of AI in our lives has never been a more hot-button issue than today, where our creative industries are increasingly infiltrated by programs that can generate long-form text and visual “art” in less time than it takes to type out a prompt. Yet, just as relevant are the more practical applications of artificial intelligence, those used by social media, search engines, surveillance, or self-driving cars. As MOTION DETECTED posits, what unforeseen consequences could result from the introduction of AI into our security systems? What if Amazon’s Alexa was simply pure evil?

In MOTION DETECTED, the feature debut from writer/director team Justin Gallager and Sam Roseme, married couple Eva and Miguel have just relocated to Southern California after Eva survived an encounter with at-large serial killer ‘El Diablo’ in their home of Mexico City. Regrettably for Eva (Natasha Esca, Narcos: Mexico), her new swanky house contains a disturbing reminder of her trauma: a home security system courtesy of the unfortunately named company Diablo Controls. Little do they know, the young daughter of the previous renters mysteriously disappeared within the house, and the digital “artifact” of her presence haunts the Diablo cyberspace. 

MOTION DETECTED gets off to a shaky start, following a successful cold open of the young girl’s disappearance. Less effective is the true-crime-style news montage that presents Eva’s backstory with El Diablo, which fails to inspire much emotional investment in her trauma, despite it being central to the narrative. MOTION DETECTED picks up after Miguel (Carlo Mendez) must travel back to Mexico City for work, leaving Eva alone in the house for a week. At first, the Diablo security system is a comfort, but soon, its AI technology begins to surveil Eva, seemingly antagonizing her by locking doors, and waking her up every morning at 6 am. The AI even interrupts Eva’s frantic calls to her inattentive psychotherapist (Kimberli Flores) Yet, things become more sinister – and more unbelievable – when Diablo Controls begins to intercept a feed of Eva’s post-traumatic night terrors of her near-death experience. In order to further harass Eva, the security system even becomes able to project a corporeal holograph of El Diablo himself. 

The tech-horror of MOTION DETECTED is unexpectedly its least interesting aspect. The idea that an AI has the power to physically manifest or affect the dreams of its victims is a little hard to swallow. MOTION DETECTED oddly has more in common with A Nightmare on Elm Street than Ex Machina. Even so, MOTION DETECTED is held together by the central performance of Natasha Esca, who brings an emotional reality to Eva’s experience, and a powerful dimension to the character’s spirituality. After Eva realizes she is no match for Diablo Controls’ power, she constructs an altar to Santa Muerte, Our Lady of Holy Death, a folk saint of Mexican Catholicism. Eva preys for protection from Santa Muerte; her religious devotion presents a sharp contrast to the cold technological manner of the Diablo security system. 

Eva’s altar to Santa Muerte

Esca brings dimension to a film that would otherwise fall flat, due to the novice trappings of the screenplay and filmmaking. By the end of the film, MOTION DETECTED has little to say about either the role of technology in our lives or the trauma Eva sustained. The ending is anticlimactic and nihilistic, but not the least bit scary. The most essential aspect of any Black Mirror-style sci-fi/horror is the intelligent social criticism or prophecies of our future. However, MOTION DETECTED limits its imagination by relying on the well-worn beats of a haunted house movie. 

MOTION DETECTED world premiered at the 2022 Dances With Films Festival and will debut on Cable VOD and Digital HD, including iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Comcast, and Verizon, on May 19, 2023.


Grace Detwiler
Grace Detwiler (@finalgirlgrace) is a freelance film journalist and law student. Her original work can be found on her blog, FinalGirlGrace, as well as in Rue Morgue's print and online publications.