When Unfettered (2024)
When Unfettered (2024)

Genre: Short and Sci-Fi Drama Running Time: 12 min.

Release Date: March 29th, 2024 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Derek Franzese Actors: Ashley Whelan, Carly Christopher, Natalie Makenna, Gayland Williams




believe it is a short matter of time.” Robotically and nearly emotionlessly – as if a combination of poor acting and comically unsympathetic scripting – a woman approaches two sisters to explain that their father is in his final moments. As it turns out, that monotonic messenger is Ash (Ashley Whelan), a cyborg-like home assistant, whose presence is meant to aid the human sisters in their final moments of grief.

“We may not need your services, shortly.” Ash is actually under the employ of the dying patriarch, which means that daughters Amara (Carly Christopher) and Wren (Natalie Makenna) must decide what to do with the eerie automaton once it’s no longer of use. Though “When Unfettered” tackles sci-fi concepts, they’re nestled quite naturally amid normal, present-day situations; it’s speculative fiction unencumbered by harder-to-grasp concepts like interstellar inhabitancy or space travel. In many ways, it aims to present an anti-“Ex Machina” (or anti-“I, Robot”) perspective, largely dispensing with cautionary-tale notions to instead ponder how a seemingly completely autonomous mechanical person might view their purpose and freedoms.

Background scenery briefly betrays more futuristic looks, but the heart of this story is simply Ash’s interest in remaining useful and interacting with humankind. But what makes her tick? What drives her desire to seek out companionship and to continue working without a clear system of compensation in place? Is she free to find her own employment? Is she governed by programming that restricts her decision-making routines? Evidently, in this vision of the future, those questions are already known by inhabitants yet deemed unimportant for audiences.

The film is ultimately a transient episode on how synthetic people and advanced AI might one day interact with society – including when unwitting citizens stumble upon the truth about a non-human entity casually infiltrating their spaces (contrastingly, there’s a specific focus on how animals and special-needs children dismiss otherness in a refreshing, wholesome way). It would seem, however, that once robots are able to be designed indistinguishably from people, public perception would shift into anticipating a certain ubiquity; the surprise of an android wandering into populous places would likely be of no concern (though holdout factions would surely exist, here demonstrating a distaste akin to racism). It may be a worthwhile subject for a short piece, but the scenario posed doesn’t come with any answers; it’s a mere observation, a skit intended to inspire debate (and to reveal, minimally, non-judgmental outlooks), but with limited insight or context from the filmmakers. “It’s unnerving how real you are.”

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10