A young couple, Tom and Jenny, are installing a new smart home security system in their tastefully upscale home. The Aria system promises an army of cameras to watch out for intruders, all accessible and controllable via app and voice assistant. But like much other modern smart home technology, Aria has its quirks.
Jenny learns to live alongside Aria, but Tom soon finds himself unnerved by it. The lights go on and off unexpectedly; he gets constant notifications that something's at the door in the middle of the night. Soon strange sounds in the dark take on an ominous portent, and each of Aria's transgressions feels increasingly aggressive, building up to a confrontation between man and machine.
Written and directed by Christopher Poole, this chilling sci-fi horror short's starting point is the installation of a smart home security system in the house shared by a millennial couple. Represented in a cheeky commercial cameo by "What We Do in the Shadows" star Natasia Demetriou, the Aria system promises a comprehensive surveillance system that detects any threat in or out of the home. Instead, it brings on a psychological descent into madness and dread that Tom cannot escape.
The film's considered style and form evoke a disjointed reality constantly interpolated by technology, where the shots alternate between Tom's "real life" with its representation via surveillance footage. The setting of its contemporary home -- both stylish and yet austerely chilly in its modernity -- is reflected in the jagged rhythms of its editing and the almost Cubist-like angles of its visual composition. We never quite settle in the film, with its pacing and rhythms keeping us off-kilter and always on our toes. It all mirrors Tom's unsettled feelings about Aria, which doesn't quite work the way promised.
As the intrusions and mishaps with Aria increase, Tom begins to experience his home as a site of threat and danger. Even the most ordinary sound -- the sound of a blender, the creaking of a floor -- feels like an assault or an insinuation. Actor Daniel Lawrence Taylor captures both Tom's increasing frustration and paranoia, though there are also moments of levity found in the gaffes of Aria that anyone who has screamed in frustration at Alexa or Siri will relate to. But overall, Tom's relationship with the new presence in his home becomes something more ominous and foreboding, eventually escalating into confrontation.
The conclusion of "Aria" does not explain or "make sense," but in its surrealism and horror, it's genuinely startling and oddly wondrous, much in a way that a dream sequence in a David Lynch film would be. With its themes of domestic space run amok with fear and anxiety, the short also possesses shades of Roman Polanski's Repulsion. But "Aria" is truly a contemporary film, resonant with themes about technology, privacy and paranoia and handled with considerable visual panache. Using horror as a way to explore our deepest cultural anxieties, it's no less than an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" for the uber-connected age, where there's no escaping the tether of constant, neverending and "always on" connectivity, even in our most private of spaces.