The new volume for Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots is out and it’s definitely a marked improvement over Volume 2. While not all of the animated shorts in this volume are up to snuff, the majority of them are interesting enough on their own to merit pouring through the nine entries this time around. The focus this volume, aside from some dark comedy shorts and one deeply esoteric short, is on horror of different varieties.
Spoilers ahead for Volume 3 of Love, Death + Robots, so don’t read if you haven’t watched yet.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first so I can get on to the animated shorts that I enjoyed. First up is “Three Robots: Exit Strategies”. The first direct sequel to a previous entry, in this case “Three Robots” from Volume One, “Three Robots: Exit Strategies” is about as subtle as a sledgehammer smashing a watermelon. I’m all for poking fun at the stupidity of human beings, particularly those who are obscenely wealthy, but a little bit of subtlety would have gone a long way to make this one a more enjoyable watch. The extended rants from the titular three robots landed badly, with more hyperbolic insults than jokes. Another short, “Kill Team Kill”, is marginally better thanks to the voice acting of the cast but it felt like extreme overkill (which is part of the point). Having grown up on 1980s action films, the homage to all the gritty, hyper-masculine tough guys was a nice touch but it just felt like Titmouse, Inc went a bit too overboard.
On to the animated shorts that I did enjoy, though. Two of the shorts were far more ambiguous in their delivery but in vastly different ways. “The Very Pulse Of The Machine” and “Jibaro” could not be more polar opposites of each other but there is a strong amount of ambiguity to both stories that I found intriguing. With “The Very Pulse Of The Machine”, an astronaut is stranded on the moon Io and has to make her way back to a rendezvous point to make contact and get rescued. Along the way, she begins to hallucinate (due to the drugs she uses for the injuries sustained in the crash of her Rover), encountering what she thinks is a machine-like intelligence of the moon. Whether or not she is actually connecting with Io or she is just lost in a drug-addled state is left up to the audience to decide. I enjoyed the visuals of this story and the level of uncertainty as to whether or not it was really happening. “Jibaro”, on the other hand, is a myth and a warning, featuring a deaf knight and a gold- and treasure-laden siren who encounter each other. The motives of the knight Jibaro and the Golden Woman are clear (the search for wealth for the former and the loneliness of the latter). In this story, the ambiguity is largely with morality of the two main characters. Neither are completely monstrous nor completely innocent, which leaves much of the story’s events up to the audience to decide who is right and wrong in the piece.
I mention in the title for this review that this volume of Love, Death + Robots is a collection of horror and the remaining stories absolutely fit that bill.
“Bad Travelling” is a sea-faring horror story focusing on a crew who has to deal with a monstrous crustacean called a thanopod. The thanopod communicates via one of the corpses it collects and strikes a deal with Torrin, one of the sailors, to transport it to a populated island nearby, to feast on the inhabitants. The crew quickly turn on each other, with Torrin executing his fellow sailors and feeding them to the thanopod (and the brood of small thanopods that eventually appear from the larger monster). It is a pitch black story, with Torrin’s increasingly brutal methods showing that he really is the only moral person on the ship, with the crew members he killed all voting to sacrifice the inhabitants of the island if it means they get to live. Definitely one of the darker stories I’ve seen in Love, Death + Robots across all of its volumes.
“Night of the Mini Dead” and “Mason’s Rats” are black comedy horror stories, with the second having a far happier ending than the first. “Night of the Mini Dead” is a fantastic send-up of zombie fiction, with the story starting off with two characters unleashing a zombie apocalypse after some graveyard nookie and eventually ending with the entirety of Earth being overrun by zombies and nuked to oblivion. Pitch black in tone but absolutely hilarious in execution, “Night of the Mini Dead” is easily one of my three favorite entries in this volume. “Mason’s Rats”, which is carried largely by the voice work of Craig Ferguson, focuses on a Scottish farmer in the future who realizes the rats in his barn have become hyper-intelligent due to the GMO grain he’s been storing there. What transpires from there is a blood-soaked attempt to rid the barn of the rats, which gets increasingly more and more violent as Mason employs robotic solutions, including a scorpion-like robot that takes particularly glee in massacring the rodents. Eventually, though, Mason comes to his senses and saves the remaining rats, who it turns out have been using the grain for their own distillery and making some kick-ass whiskey out of it.
The two most disturbing entries in Volume 3, though, are hands down “Swarm” and “In Vaulted Halls Entombed”, both of which feature the most depressing endings out of the all of the entries. “Swarm” focuses on a scientist who joins a collective group of aliens simply referred to as the Swarm (hence the title). The Swarm is a centralized insectoid race that has existed for millennia, absorbing other species into this organic collective. Simon, the new scientist, is greeted by Galina, who has been studying the Swarm for some time before Simon’s arrival. Simon intends on learning from the Swarm, testing how it could potentially be used to further humanity’s expansion into the universe. But when the Swarm discovers this betrayal, the level of body horror Galina is subjected to is pure nightmare fuel. “Swarm” ends on an open-ended note with no real resolution to the story. My hope is that if there is a Volume 4 of Love, Death + Robots, the story of “Swarm” is continued.
Cyberpunk Fairy Tales by George Saoulidis. $8.99 from Smashwords.com
Read the Cyberpunk Fairy Tales, a unique twist on the classic stories you grew up with. Sometimes dark and disturbing like the Grimm stories, other times new and relevant to the modern age. This is Volume 1, containing: The Impossible Quest of Hailing a Taxi on Christmas Eve. Nanodaemons: The Fir Smart-Tree Berenice’s Hair. Ariadne’s String The Little Match Girl
Which leaves us with “In Vaulted Halls Entombed”, a Lovecraftian-story in the same vein as “Beyond the Aquila Rift” from Volume One. A squad of American soldiers are tasked with retrieving a hostage from a group of insurgents in an underground cave network. As the team ventures deeper into the caves, they find the hostage and some of the insurgents stripped of all their flesh. Instead of doing the sensible thing and getting the hell out of there, they go deeper in, eventually losing several members of the squad to spider-like creatures that guard the tunnels. Further in, the remaining survivors find an underground temple where an eldritch abomination is chained up, commanding any who enter to free it. Like any true Lovecraftian horror story, no one makes it out alive or entirely sane, with the last living soldier having removed her own tongue and eyes before wandering back out into the desert, possibly possessed by the entity in the template. The bleakest ending out of all of the short films in this volume but it packs a hell of a punch. I’m a sucker for stories like this one and “In Vaulted Halls Entombed” was easily my favorite out of this collection, with “Mason’s Rats” being a close second. While not as well-rounded as the initial Volume 1, Volume 3 of Love, Death + Robots is definitely worth a watch. There are enough darkly comedic short entries to break up the overall bleak entries. With that being said, Volume 3 is not for the feint-of-heart or the easily squeamish and it is a far darker collection than Volume 2 by a large margin. I recommend Volume 3 but this feels like a collection that will not be up everyone’s alley.
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