A young computer programmer is selected to evaluate the human qualities of an A.I. in a Turing test.
Oscar Isaac - Nathan
Domhnall Gleeson - Caleb
Alicia Vikander - Ava
Artificial intelligence has been explored throughout cinema history in various formats from 1951's classic black-and-white sci-fi epic The Day the Earth Stood Still, to the strange Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery which sees a series of 'Fembots' seduce our hero. You would think audiences and filmmakers are now bored of seeing A.I.s grace our screen, but still film after film is churned out featuring various androids and robots making the challenge to make the genre fresh increasingly difficult. However, Alex Garland with his directorial debut Ex Machina has overcome the challenge with confidence, flair and intelligence. He has created an innovative, but slightly flawed, film that will grip you from the start, spin your head around and around leaving you dizzy with exhilaration by the end of the stunning climax.
When we first meet Domhnall Gleeson's Caleb he is a wide-eyed, young and ambitious computer programmer who wins first prize in a lottery giving him the chance to visit his CEO's Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac, beautiful but isolated estate. The trip is not what the naive Caleb expected though as he is asked to perform a Turing test on Nathan's latest robotic creation, the elegant and beautiful Ava. This premise may sound cliche but the talented Garland, who also wrote the screenplay, executes it with a refreshing flair and ensures the story goes in unexpected directions leaving you at the edge of your seat throughout in a state of shock and agape with amazement. Key to the film's success is making the story new and original, which is something Garland accomplishes with his odd and twisted tale. Full of intriguing questions and challenging ideas it will get your mind ticking over, but you do not have to be into science-fiction to enjoy this film as there is plenty of action, drama and tension to make it an exhilarating psychological thriller. There are even moments of light comic relief which feel strange and surreal within the cool atmosphere of the film leaving you unsure whether you should laugh, one particular scene that has this effect sees Isaac throw some sweet dance moves and is simply genius and the most memorable scene. Garland has already proved with the likes of 28 Days Later that he can write, but with Ex Machina he really shows off not only his writing, but also directorial skills with a degree of confidence that places him on the hot list.
Central to the film is the tense but dynamic relationship between Isaac's chilling Nathan, Gleeson's naive Caleb and Vikander's elegant Ava. All three characters are extremely complex, but thankfully their actors have put the work in to ensure that they master every aspect of their character to make them three-dimensional. It is never easy to play an A.I. as you have to balance human and android elements and ensure that one does not outweigh the other. The ever beautiful Vikander does this with perfection though. Her movements are note perfect as they are not quite human which gives an unsettling feeling, and her performance overall is spectacular crucially leaving us unsure whether she is manipulating us or whether she deserves our pity. This is critical to the plot, especially to her relationship with Caleb, brilliantly played by Gleeson. Gleeson neatly develops Caleb's character from naive youth desperate to impress to cunning and crafty, a chilling side of his character that was always there but hidden underneath his adorable dorkiness and wide eyes. Opposing Caleb's innocence is Isaac's reckless Nathan, a millionaire genius who is untrustworthy leaving us unsure what to believe and where he is going to head next. One moment he is showcasing his intellectual skills explaining how he built his android, and the next he is drunkenly dancing to 'Get Down Saturday Night' with his female assistant. Isaac is quickly becoming one of Hollywood's favourite actors, and from watching his superb performance in Ex Machina it is now wonder why. These three characters are wonderful creations, complex enough to intrigue as you are never sure where they are heading next or how they are going to interact leaving you in a state of tension throughout.
Ex Machina immediately takes you in with its absorbing cinematography, of course isolated glacial landscapes perfectly match the film's slick style, and intriguing central idea. Garland's story is extremely well-written full of wit, intelligence and tension making this sci-fi film a twisted psychological thriller that will leave you dizzy and your brain ticking over as you consider all the challenging questions it asks. The end is slightly disappointing as it relapses into cliches, but it still feels overwhelming fresh and original. Vikander, Isaac and Gleeson are an excellent trio of actors whose characters are complex and engaging, but leave you unsettled and unsure who or what to trust.