Since writing Dredd in 2012, novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland has been pretty quiet. After novels such as The Beach and The Coma, he moved his creative efforts to the big screen, writing the screenplays for Danny Boyle films 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Now, he is adding another string to his bow with his directorial debut feature.
Ex Machina sees young programmer Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) winning a once-in-a-lifetime prize – a week with his rich yet reclusive boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Once he arrives at the secluded mountain home, Caleb discovers he is to participate in an experiment involving Nathan’s latest creation – Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robot that can easily pass off as human. While Caleb interacts with Ava, he gradually realises there is more to the experiment that meets the eye.
Ex Machina is more than a nod to robotics and the sci-fi genre, but is also an emotionally fraught piece. From the offset, Caleb is played between master (Nathan) and creation (Ava) as his respective interactions with each of them build up the psychological and sexual tension in this take of the Turing test.
The story is intriguing from the get-go and provides twists and turns at every opportunity. From the dark corridors of the underground bunker/research facility to the one-to-one, tension-filled interactions, Garland boldly takes a dark and imaginative approach in his narrative style and direction, showing that his creative flair is not restricted to the page.
The film revolves around the acting abilities of its starring trio, who play their parts brilliantly. Gleeson’s Caleb darkens during the film, as his initial need to appease his genius boss with his intellect gradually dissipates as his suspicions take over his own rational thinking. On the flip side, Isaac’s flippant, possibly alcoholic Nathan is mysterious yet watchable, switching from intimidating to practically bonkers the next, he plants seeds that makes you doubt his own intellect.
However, Ex Machina is Alicia Vikander’s film. Graceful yet eloquent as the inhibited Ava, she is as mysterious as her creator yet emotionally conflicted as Caleb. Even though her wires and lights in her limbs and torso are on show, it is easy to forget she is a robot but surely, if she can emotively pass off as a human, is there any limit to what she is capable of?
Films involving robots tend to range from the sublime (Wall-E, Robot and Frank) to the ridiculous (I, Robot, Transformers), but having a film about the sinister side of artificial intelligence is something very new and refreshing. Ex Machina doesn’t try and be overly pretentious or indulgent in the subject matter and as a result, it is as disquieting and straightforward as you can get.
Beautifully told, stunning with occasional outbursts of humour (Oscar Isaac is an early contender for Best Dance Scene 2015), Ex Machina will leave you reeling.
Ex Machina is out in UK cinemas on 21st January.
Stars:Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
Runtime: 108 min
Country: USA, UK