UK Release Date: 23rd January 2015
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson
Synopsis: A lucky employee of a huge tech company gets the opportunity to spend time with his enigmatic boss in order to test his new AI creation.
Alex Garland is a name well-known to fans of genre cinema. He is the screenwriter behind some of the most interesting movies of the new millennium, including 28 Days Later and Dredd. With the deeply intriguing, multi-layered sci-fi outing Ex Machina, Garland marks his debut in the director’s chair – and what a debut it is.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is picked in a lottery and earns the opportunity to spend some time at the home of his tech company’s enigmatic boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac). It is soon revealed that the true purpose of Caleb’s visit is to perform a ‘Turing Test’ on Nathan’s newest project in the field of artificial intelligence – named Ava (Alicia Vikander).
Ex Machina is certainly a hell of a directorial debut for Alex Garland. It’s a smartly written tale, aided by intelligent direction and three absolutely terrific central performances. It’s an achievement of clever filmmaking and stellar performance in equal measure.
| "I am God."
For all of the importance of its human characters, Ex Machina hinges on the portrayal of its AI. Alicia Vikander, fresh from her solid performance in Testament of Youth, is perfect at bringing Ava to life with little more than a slightly inhuman voice and unblinking eyes.
There’s something about Vikander in this film that’s not quite human, whether it’s her slightly awkward movement or the way she speaks as if she’s saying each word for the first time. She is at once sympathetic and incredibly tough to pin down – it’s a delightfully opaque performance.
Domhnall Gleeson provides the audience entry point for Ex Machina. His performance is soulful, with Caleb wearing his heart on his sleeve. From the first moment of the film, his motivations are obvious, in a stark contrast to the enigmatic whims of Ava and Nathan, who is played almost as a horror movie villain by the chameleon-like Oscar Isaac. It’s also the stark contrast between Gleeson and Isaac that creates much of Ex Machina’s oddball comedy, including an unforgettable disco dancing sequence that cannot be unseen.
Garland sets his film in a bizarrely clinical environment. Like the characters of Nathan and Ava, the futuristic home setting is unforgiving and alienating. It’s almost as if the house, complete with panels that can allow or deny access to certain rooms, has its own motivations. Garland conveys this perfectly by showing Gleeson as he wanders the house alone at night, subject to the whims of its technological gatekeepers.
| "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."
Ex Machina does, however, lose its way a little as the story escalates in the third act. As the character motivations become clear, the film begins to devolve into a pulpy thriller, albeit one with far more of a brain than cinema audiences have come to expect. In fact, there’s a pleasingly Cronenbergian sense of visceral body horror to it all that really pays dividends as the film goes to the extreme.
Despite its flawed finale, Ex Machina stands as a deeply intriguing sci-fi, with plenty to say about the complex relationship between man and machine. It also marks an exciting new phase in the career of one of British cinema’s most interesting voices.
Pop or Poop?
Powered by some complex ideas and a trio of intricate central performances, Ex Machina is a sci-fi thriller with drama at its heart.
Alicia Vikander continues her meteoric rise with a performance of enormous physical and vocal subtlety. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson are reliably strong alongside her.
Alex Garland, the writer, is a proven commodity. In the wake of Ex Machina, Alex Garland, the director, has arrived.
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