Visually stunning, Ex Machina is a slick sci-fi film that hooks the audience with a slow-burning plot that is fueled by powerful performances.
Written and directed by Alex Garland, the film features Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno and an incredible Oscar Isaac. Garland makes his directing debut with this film after serving as screenplay writer for Dredd, Sunshine and 28 Days Later. Rob Hardy handled the film’s beautiful cinematography with Mark Digby behind its claustrophobic production design.
The film kicks off with Bluebook (the world’s leading search engine) programmer Caleb Smith (Gleeson) winning a company competition to spend a week with the company’s genius CEO Nathan Bateman (Isaac) at his mountain home. When Caleb arrives, he discovers the home is more of an isolated research facility and he has actually been brought there to field test Nathan’s latest invention a robot named Ava (Vikander ) who has been equipped with artificial intelligence.
To prove he has cracked the challenge of AI, Nathan wants Caleb to conduct a Turing test (where the interviewer is unaware he is interviewing a robot) on Ava through a series of sessions designed to see if Ava can truly think for herself. Nathan monitors the interviews, but offers Caleb little direction in what they should talk about or how he should approach his interactions with Ava.
Over the week, Caleb starts to see how close to human Ava is, and begins to question Nathan’s true motives behind the test. Caleb also questioned who is actually being tested and his own role in this experiment. Isolated from the world, Caleb begins to have feelings for Ava, and slowly seems to question his own sanity. The situation is made worse as Ava begins to give Caleb reasons to be suspicious of Nathan, and other discoveries are made. Caleb also starts to question just how much he can trust Ava – who might be using him for her own gains.
Garland has crafted a smart sci-fi film that is rich with visuals, story and themes. It does what good science fiction should do – makes you question what you are watching and leaves you talking about it long after the end credits roll. The film moves at a slow pace, and doesn’t feature any action. Garland and company create a sense of isolation and claustrophobia through the design of Nathan’s house and the small cast. He also touches on other great science fiction tales – such as elements of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Gleeson, Vikander, and Isaac are all incredible in the film. With no action in the film, the talented cast is able to create all the suspense through their performances and keeps the audience hanging on every word and questioning where the film will go next. Sonoya Mizuno also provides several creepy moments through her performance as the silent Kyoko.
Gleeson is the audience’s way into the story as he plays a character wowed by the intelligence of Nathan, quickly taken by the beauty of Ava’s design (a testament to the visual effects of the film), and later questioning everything he is witnessing and even his own humanity. Vikander makes Ava innocent and maybe a victim to Nathan’s plan. Later, the audience starts to question her motives and just how innocent she might actually be. Isaac creates a character that is not extremely likeable (you can see shades of Dr. Victor Frankenstein in how he treats his creations), and maybe not completely sane. He seems to want proof he has accomplished true AI, but is also willing to manipulate the test to achieve his outcome. It is a complex performance and Isaac is perfectly cast for the role.
On Blu-ray, the film is simply beautiful. The production design, filming and look of the film all help craft the feeling of isolation and the colors pop on the Blu-ray format. The Blu-ray also comes loaded with special features including a five-part look at the “making of” the film and a Q&A with the cast and crew.
Ex Machina is not the kind of science fiction film that will please everyone. It is a slow moving film, but is richly layered with a story that makes the pace well-worth the time it takes to watch it.