Sundance Review: Users
Technology is taking over our lives, a preventable reality that also kind of feels inevitable. Advances in artificial intelligence could very well create a scenario where children love their devices more than their parents. Director Natalia Almada occasionally grapples with this idea, never quite sure what direction to take Users in.
Almada showcases plenty of visual wonders through the eighty-one-minute runtime. She finds beauty in many mundane activities, from watching a kid play video games or a stevedore unloading shipping containers. Her attention to detail is exceptional, finding emotion in a pile of crushed up computer chips.
For all the visual beauty to soak in, Users doesn’t have enough substance for the mind to digest. A jarringly forgettable adventure. There is no consistent narrative, nor any concrete idea that Almada seems interesting in grappling with. One can admire her ambition of scope, but there’s no takeaway.
This dynamic is best on display when Almada shows the sky from an airplane, the narration questioning why people would choose the tiny TVs over endlessly gazing at the horizon. Almada hints that there’s something wrong with the way people entertain themselves on long flights. While likely designed to be an open question, the whole exercise instead makes you wonder how many plane rides she’s been on without the use of a screen.
Users is not a pretentious narrative, but it does feel a bit smug-adjacent. Philosophical questions never arrive at answers, understandable given the gravity of Almada’s broader ambitions. The narrative hints at the idea of wanting to strike at the core of humanity, but all it ends up doing is tiptoeing around the globe until it’s time for the credits to roll.
The result is so unbelievably frustrating. Almada successfully communicates the weight of the world, no easy task for any narrative. Beyond its beautiful images, Users doesn’t really make you feel anything.
The film gives off the sense that it really wants its audience to grapple with the concepts that the narration throws to them every once in a while. There’s too little consistency and the fragments of meaning are too thin to tie together. It’s easy to be impressed by Users’ ambitious scope, but there’s nothing here to love.