Film Review: Ex Machina

This is a movie I really wanted to see in the cinema but missed out on, so I was stoked that I got to catch it recently.

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Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at Bluebook, a tech company wins a staff lottery. The prize is to travel to the secluded research facility of the CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive genius. Despite initial awkwardness Nathan encourages Caleb not to view him as his boss, just as a guy. He also reveals that he wants Caleb’s help in performing the Turing test on a robot he has made.
The Turing test is basically a way of testing an artificial intelligence to see if it can convince as a human. Normally performed anonymously so the person doesn’t know who or what they’re talking to. Here, Caleb knows its a robot, but can it still convince him it has proper intelligence.
Caleb then begins a series of sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), and is impresses. Their meetings continue, with Nathan observing, and over time Caleb finds himself oddly attracted to Ava. She seems flirtatious at times and Caleb struggles to work out how she operates.

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Ava and Caleb having a chat

Things become even more complicated when during a power cut Ava warns him not to trust Nathan.
Who can Caleb trust? The eccentric and slightly creepy Nathan or Ava, a machine? What secrets does the remote house contain, and was Caleb really a random winner or has his presence been engineered? And if it has, why?
This movie really blew me away, essentially a three hander (there is one other, mute character in the house) it boasts three amazing performances. Gleeson impresses as the nerdy Caleb who finds himself out of his depth and struggling with how to proceed. He’s our eyes into the world, and like the audience he’s constantly trying to work out what’s going on.
Alex Garland proves himself an accomplished director, shooting this in a cold, detached way which enhances the feeling of being on the outside and makes everything eerie and tense. His script is wonderfully minimal, with long silent stretches capturing the isolation, but the dialogue sparkles, with the tension and unease building nicely throughout.
As Ava, Vikander impresses playing the role with disconcerting calmness, but with occasional flashes of humour, flirtation and character which leaves the audience trying to figure out what she is. Are the emotions she shows real? Or is it just mimicry to trick and manipulate Caleb?
She keeps you guessing throughout, and the “what is humanity” and “can a robot feel” themes, sci-fi tropes are done well. You start wondering about Ava, and watching her closely for clues as to what’s going on under the surface and it’s to her credit that under this scrutiny Vikander’s performance holds up.
As the third lead Oscar Isaac is a powerhouse as the weird, enigmatic Nathan.

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Powerhouse- Isaac as Nathan

You find yourself questioning his motives and his initial weirdness transforms into something more menacing, but is this because of him or Ava’s accusations. Are we being influenced by her just as much as Caleb is?
The weirdness continues, and Isaac is an unsettling presence. It seems that Nathan may have lost it in his isolation, and he takes part in a weird, incredibly awkward dance sequence, which only enhances the audience’s confusion and the sense of weirdness.

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Awkwardness

A few plot developments I guessed early, but for the most part it keeps you guessing and is an engaging movie and the ending is powerful and well done. Garland should be applauded for crafting a solid science fiction piece and the three leads are amazing.
Verdict: A wonderfully done sci-fi movie that boasts three great central performances. It treads familiar genre ground, but in a mesmerising, engaging way. It keeps you thinking and wondering right until the end, and doesn’t disappoint. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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