Project Dorothy is a haunted house-style thriller about a nasty ghost in the machine that wants to broaden its ghastly horizons — and the two unlucky souls who find themselves in the position to stop it.
James (Tim DeZarn) and Blake (Adam Budron) are two criminals on the run after a failed robbery. They find temporary refuge in a remote office park. As they explore the office building and adjacent research facilities, they realize this wasn’t simply a case of a company finding new digs and moving on. Desks sit abandoned with half-full cups of coffee; printed papers remain in the trays, unread; furniture is strewn about. Something happened in their safe haven, and whatever it was isn’t done with whoever crosses it.
Directed by George Henry Horton (from a script co-written with Ryan Scaringe), Dorothy hits almost every possible trope for this type of sci-fi tale. The “ghost in the machine” is an artificial intelligence named Dorothy that has achieved sentience and wants to escape the closed factory network. Voiced by Danielle Harris (of the Halloween franchise), Dorothy maintains control of the facility, including its surveillance equipment, and plays mind games with James and Blake while attacking them with networked machinery. Dorothy’s objective is to retrieve the USB dongle Blake carries to facilitate escape into the broader world. It’s a lot of basic AI beats hit countless times before.
Still, if you’re into bootstrapped science-fiction / horror, there are good bits to enjoy here. For one, a few grisly body-horror wounds are much appreciated. Horton’s direction and camerawork also come from Sam Raimi’s kinetic use of handheld, first-person POV sequences, which gives the film some motion. DeZarn and Budron are good as two men bound by bad choices and mutual secrets. There’s also the use of old recordings to explain the nature of Dorothy and what happened to the lab team, as told by Dr. Jillian (Olivia Scott). The recordings are a great way to create exposition without Dorothy reciting everything.
However, the recordings also speak to the movie’s greatest weakness: There isn’t much new happening here. Audiences looking for the next big sci-fi concept will find it wanting. That said, it’s an admirable low-budget affair made with a lot of spit and grit, playing with well-worn but eternal concepts that feel pretty relatable now as much as ever. It’s hard to say anything harsh about a movie that commits to itself with all available resources, and it’s clear the team behind it gave it their all.