Written and directed by Alex Garland, Ex Machina follows a young programmer at an internet-search giant, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence, at the private mountain estate of the company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Caleb has been chosen to be the human component in a Turing Test, where he must evaluate the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment, Ava (Alicia Vikander).
From the writer of hugely impressive 28 Days Later and Sunshine, there’s a lot to be excited about when a writer of such talent is about to make his directorial debut. And that’s why many of us couldn’t wait for Ex Machina. Garland has been the source of some of the best films in their genre; the huge scale of space sci-fi Sunshine and the intense zombie apocalypse 28 Days Later were enough to promise that another brilliant sci-fi was on its way.
Many films have used the revolution of technology as a basis to their stories recently, but Ex Machina has an original feel to it throughout. The film doesn’t belittle its audience by throwing too much jargon at them, but it’s enough to scare the audience of the possibility of something similar happening in the future.
And that’s how this film draws you in. You find yourself a part of the Turing Test yourself: Would you believe in Ava’s capabilities? Would you be convinced by her human-like emotions? Would you believe that she is genuine, or find enough flaws to consider her a threat? It’s difficult to know any of these answers at the start, and I think everybody gets fooled in one way or another. Even if you think that you wouldn’t be as naive as Caleb, there’s still enough twists to surprise everybody at least once.
Ex Machina certainly excels, most of all, because of this brilliant script, but also because of its impressive visual effects and beautiful cinematography. Again, Garland has nailed the sci-fi genre both in premise and in the all-around feel to it.
And it would be wrong of me not to mention the performances, because all three leads are excellent. I love Domnhall Gleeson and it’s great to see him in bigger roles lately, and Oscar Isaac is a – charmingly – busy man at the minute. But it’s Alicia Vikander who makes her break-out performance. Her ability to act as an A.I. whilst trying to be as human as possible is spot on, and her beauty is enough to make anybody think about whether they would be taken in by her presence or not. All in all, Garland has got everything about this film spot-on.
There has been some criticism about the use of nudity, but I think this only highlights Nathan’s troubled mind, working to show how messed up his character really is and putting emphasis on Caleb’s situation that is obviously going to get a lot more complicated after these revelations. My only flaw with the film is that I think it should have ended five minutes earlier, leaving the rest to imagination and ending with Caleb in his doomed state. Still, the last image we see of him has a great impact, and hints that a possible sequel could work. (Whether or not this is an option I don’t know.)