Alex Garland is no stranger to the cult classic, having written 28 Days Later…, Sunshine, and 2012’s surprisingly awesome Dredd.
With Ex Machina, Garland moves behind the camera to direct his own screenplay, and the result is a gripping film that intelligently explores
the line between artificial intelligence and humanity.
Computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is chosen to spend a week at the isolated estate of his company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan
After Caleb’s arrival, Nathan unveils Ava (Alicia Vikander), an incredibly sophisticated humanoid A.I. which, aside from an incomplete
exterior, is nearly indistinguishable from a human. Ava speaks fluently, moves smoothly and expresses herself in a way that blurs the line
between human and machine.
Caleb is tasked with performing a Turing test, which evaluates the ability of a machine to exhibit behavior indistinguishable from a human.
(Apparently the Voight-Kampff test hasn’t been conceived yet.)
Ex Machina obviously echoes the juggernauts of the science fiction genre, including Blade Runner and Star Trek: The Next Generation
(Both explored themes of sentience and consciousness in androids).
Despite owing much to these beloved classics, Garland’s film feels fresh.
Like many great sci-fi stories, Ex Machina uses futuristic technology as a metaphor for timeless human issues.
Ex Machina philosophizes about what it truly means to be human, but also creates sexual tension between Caleb and Ava. They begin to
bond during Caleb’s interview sessions with the A.I.
An uncomfortable Caleb asks Nathan if he programmed Ava to be attracted to him. His questioning of the true strength of their relationship
is a powerful element in the film, and one of those wonderful metaphors that calls to our base human emotions.
Isaac’s Nathan is also excellent. An eccentric, secluded genius, it would have been easy for his character (and performance) to veer into
the clichéd mad scientist archetype. Isaac plays him as an ambitious entrepreneur who counteracts his wealth and stature through a laid
back attitude and frat boy-level binge drinking.
Gleeson and Vikander are strong as well. Gleeson provides a blank canvas, almost as if the audience can project their own feelings within
him as we view the strange world of Nathan through his eyes.
Vikander is also great as Ava, wonderfully straddling the line between cold artificiality and genuine emotion.
Garland’s direction is strong. He allows his to cast carry the weight of the film, only occasionally injecting some subtle visual style.
The production design is refreshingly simple for a sci-fi film, and the muted cinematography and deliberate pacing lend themselves well to
the film’s mysterious, slightly ominous tone.
Garland’s direction creates a palpable sense of atmosphere, something not even veteran filmmakers consistently achieve.
Ex Machina is being sold as a sci-fi thriller, when it’s really a drama. Only in the final act does the film break from its artsy, independent feel.
Unfortunately, it leads to the film’s only real letdown.
Garland leans a bit too heavily on generic horror elements as the film approaches its climax, and the finale (while admittedly bold) is a bit
too clever for its own good.
On one hand I want to praise Garland for shunning convention here, but his creativity doesn’t necessarily make for a satisfying conclusion.
Even with a final act that can’t match the greatness of what comes before it, Ex Machina is still highly recommended. This is intelligent,
thoughtful science fiction; well-conceived, written and executed.
Garland’s directorial debut is impressive to say the least. We knew he was a capable writer, but if Ex Machina is any indication, he is also a
director to keep an eye on.
* * * ½
(out of four)
Directed by: Alex Garland
Written by: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac
Music by: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury
Cinematography by: Rob Hardy
Released: April 10, 2015; 108 Minutes