Early 1980s. A group of chess enthusiasts gather at a hotel to program computers to play each other in a battle of artificial intelligence.
Writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s (Funny Ha Ha) latest is a micro-budget mockumentary about a poky chess tournament between variously dysfunctional software programmers, including Dazed And Confused’s barely recognisable Wiley Wiggins. It is visually astute (though deliberately ugly and sweatily cramped) — the boxy aspect-ratio not only recalls old-school computer monitors but also the chessboard, something Bujalski highlights with the occasional split-screen. Yet early promise of sharp character comedy dissipates amid jolts of sci-fi surreality and frustratingly vague hints at ghosts in machines.
It's fashionable to dismiss mumblecore as prone to obtuseness, but Bujalski offers a wryly funny slice of nerd-vana.