Ex Machina is a thought provoking sci-fi thriller
We’re living in a new age of high quality science fiction films each of which are equally unique and thought-provoking. Ex Machina takes a well-deserved seat near the front of the class with a spellbinding character study mystery made even more fascinating by the thought that its premise is far closer to becoming reality than most of its sci-fi peers.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, Unbroken) is chosen to spend a week with Nathan (a charismatic and lively Oscar Isaac), a multimillionaire in the vein of Steve Jobs, who wants Caleb to analyze his artificial intelligence creation Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb’s mission is simple — determine the extent of Ava’s humanity through a series of sessions — and see if she could actually pass for a human.
Physically, Ava is still in the prototype phase as her mechanical exterior is still largely visible, but her interactions with Caleb reveal a sophisticated, calculated and perhaps too human A.I. all under Nathan’s watchful eye via surveillance camera.
At first glance you may write the film off as yet another in a long parade of increasingly evolving AI — the sequel to Her — but Ex Machina has its own complexities and questions for the audience to consider beyond connecting with a new form of technology. It also stands out from the rest of the A.I. pack thanks an ever increasing sense of dread that everything is not all that it appears.
Screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later and the seriously underrated Dredd) makes a memorable directorial debut. Fully exhibiting his screenwriter background, Garland is much more interested in character interactions than impressing audiences with some splashy, flashy visuals and unnecessary effects.
In part that’s due to the film’s $15 million budget, but for the story he’s telling, Garland effectively reins in the CGI for only the most important elements. As the film isn’t set in a particular time frame, it’s easy to consider that somewhere out there, a similar trio is engaging in this very experiment.
Unsure of what to make of the request, Caleb agrees to evaluate Ava and her ability to think like a human even as Caleb begins to find Nathan increasingly less trustworthy. Nathan’s cruel treatment to his maid Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) help shift Caleb’s loyalties as he becomes more enamored with the creation than the genius behind her creation.
Vikander is the show-stealer here. Vikander makes Ava’s mannerisms and delivery feel appropriately stiff and robotic without being an exaggeration. Vikander really shines in keeping Ava such an emotionless vacuum that like Caleb, we’re trying desperately to read her and figure out what’s going inside Ava’s super-processor head. That’s not to take away from Gleeson and Isaac, who both impressively take darker turns as the film progresses.
Garland’s greatest accomplishment is how he leaves the characters fully open to interpretation. Three people could find Ava, Caleb or Nathan the more relatable/main character and differ on who exactly is the hero or ‘villain.’ It’s a sentiment that may remain unresolved even after the end credits roll.
Some questionable character choices in the final act prevent Ex Machina from unqualified perfection, but you won’t be abler to stop thinking about it and the potentially sinister future that awaits us.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10