The directorial debut for universally-acclaimed writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later and Sunshine), Ex Machina is a unique and intelligent slice of science fiction that addresses weighty topics, such as the blurred lines between technology and morality, whilst also working in its own right as a superbly unnerving psychological thriller. The film revolves around Caleb (Gleeson), a naïve IT programmer who works at the world’s largest search engine company. He ends up winning a competition to spend a week with the company’s reclusive CEO Nathan (Isaac) at his “remote” mountain retreat.
Once Caleb turns up, instead of bonding and getting an expected promotion, he’s told by Nathan that he’s really there to take part in a variation of the “Turing Test” with his latest creation: Ava, an elegant AI robot with a cyborgian body structure that has been affixed with a humanoid face and hands. As Caleb begins to become acquainted with the notion that Ava is a robot, he begins to question and have doubts about the test, but Nathan explains that the actual test is whether or not she can pass off as a human being despite the apparent knowledge that Ava’s anything but human.
When you look at Garland’s past work, you can clearly see just how much creative ingenuity has greatly influenced his transition into filmmaking, and Ex Machina is, without question, his finest creation to date, his own personal “Magnum Opus”. Within its confined, claustrophobic walls lie huge ideas that hark back to the more grown-up world of science fiction. It tackles with complicated, philosophical questions about the dangers of playing God and nature vs. nurture, whilst also dealing with the central thesis of a machine being able to think for itself, as well as if it’s possible for a machine to be either attracted or attractive.
This opens the doors to even seedier levels as it deals with the topics of manipulation through sexuality and the detachment from human desire, heavily alluding to films such as Under the Skin, Her and Blade Runner. But, it’s to Alex Garland’s credit that he makes those generic ideas feel more fresh and exciting than ever before, making it accessible to a mainstream audience. He draws the audience in with those ideas, and then cleverly traps them within a vice-like grip that keeps them on the edge of their seat all the way through.
Ultimately the film is a three-hander, with the three principal performers collectively giving masterclass performances; Oscar Isaac is a perfect concoction of likeability and terrifying, whilst Dohmnall Gleeson provides the perfect sympathetic counterpart, possessing a strong sense of both decency and morality. However, it’s undeniably the mercurial Alicia Vikander who completely steals the show, giving a hypnotically mesmerising performance that beautifully blurs the boundaries between the natural and the unnatural (the organic and the technological). Thanks to the perfect combination of Double Negative’s masterful computer-generated visuals (the robotic design being a unique amalgamation of Sonny from I, Robot and the Björk robots from Chris Cunningham’s All Is Full of Love music video) and Vikander’s balletic, yet note-perfect, physicality, you can never take your eyes off Ava, and she’ll be the character everyone’ll talk about the most once the film ends.
The film also boasts excellent cinematography from Rob Hardy and a haunting score from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, but every single aspect in the film is accomplished thanks to Alex Garland and his uncompromising vision. The end result is a stylish, thought-provoking experience, and is truly one of the most entertaining sci-fi films in recent years. Everyone better watch out for Garland, he’s a talent that’s not to be messed with.
Special Features: Five featurettes
INFO: CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ALEX GARLAND / SCREENPLAY: ALEX GARLAND / STARRING: DOMHNALL GLEESON, OSCAR ISAAC, ALICIA VIKANDER / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 1ST (DVD/BLU-RAY), MAY 18TH (VOD)