- Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb Smith
- Oscar Isaac as Nathan
- Alicia Vikander as Ava
An intriguing science fiction thriller marking the directorial debut of Alex Garland, Ex Machina is unusual, disturbing and full of interesting themes that will haunt you for days. Boasting a strong cast and a big impact, it is one of the best science fiction movies of recent years.
Computer programmer Caleb Smith works at a computer software company. We first meet him when he wins a competition to visit the reclusive CEO of his company billionaire Nathan in his beautiful but very isolated home for one week. Excited and very curious about the prospect of it all, Caleb meets Nathan, who turns out to be a very unusual guy indeed. By turns very intelligent and then selfish, egotistical and prone to heavy drinking, Nathan is unnerving to a certain degree to Caleb, who at first shrugs it off because he’s so interested in why he’s been selected. The real purpose of Caleb’s visit is later revealed to him. Nathan has created a beautiful female AI that is called Ava. Caleb is to take part in a Turing test to distinguish whether or not Ava could pass as a human. These tests consist of questioning from Caleb to Ava, which Nathan observes via high-tech cameras. At first Caleb is completely bowled over by the creation of Ava and struck beyond belief. But events soon take a dark turn, when during one if their sessions, Ava manages to cause the power to fail for a few minutes. During one of these system shut downs, Ava tells Caleb that he shouldn’t trust anything Nathan tells him. This in turn leads to uneasy tension between the three of them as a sense of paranoia sets in and we are left consider who is really pulling the strings and ask many questions. Is the gifted but disturbed creator Nathan behind everything and what are his intentions, both for Caleb and for Ava? Is the impressionable Caleb so entranced by Ava that he can’t see something dark is brewing? And most importantly, how like a human is Ava and what is she really capable of doing?
As writer and director, Alex Garland creates a sense of eeriness to the movie that is slowly revealed in often disturbing and surprising ways. He has a sure hand in both capacities and taps into an array of themes, which include what it means to be human and the accountability of man playing God. To say Ex Machina is a thought-provoking film is an understatement, as it delves into unusual angles and pulls the rug from under us in provocative fashion. With the troika of characters, we are never sure who to relate to as the seesaw of sympathy swings between them all as the dark story evolves and other motives are hinted at. A keen visual design highlights the technological aspects of the story seen in Nathan’s high-tech dwelling, the mirrors of the room in which Caleb conducts the tests and the appearance of bewitching Ava. It must be said that the appearance of Ava is indeed a sight to behold. Her face, hands and feet look human but the rest of her body, constructed with a sophisticated mesh like structure allows us to glimpse the robot inside. It’s the design of Ava that really blurs the line between human and machine. Sonically, Ex Machina is highly effective to with the whirring sound of Ava’s movements suggesting the inner working of her robotic(or is it more closer to human?) mind and a humming ambient score that adds considerable tension to the film by letting us know straight away that something is not quite right.
The three main players in the story are all very good and ideally cast for this movie. Domhnall Gleeson plays the part of Caleb with a winning curiosity and naivety that is later tested as darkness encroaches upon his participation in the test. Oscar Isaac is equally effective as the eccentric Nathan, who is above all a capricious character. Isaac handsomely reveals these unpredictable changes within Nathan with alarming intensity. We never know which side of Nathan we are going to get next and most of that is down to the committed work of Oscar Isaac. Plus, the guy has some serious dance moves that he showcases in a completely unexpected but entirely memorable scene. The standout performer for me in Ex Machina from the central trio is Alicia Vikander in her portrayal of the android Ava. The performance has a certain unnatural poise to it, from the tilt of her head, unusual tone of her voice and her smooth, graceful movements, it’s hard to take your eyes off her work. Yet her performance goes deeper than just the physical side; Vikander successfully cloaks Ava in ambiguity with a mix of guile, sensuality and intelligence that really makes us consider what her true nature is. Is Ava more sophisticated than Nathan ever imagined? And has she somehow taken on a complete life of her own? Thanks to the marvellous performance from Alicia Vikander, we are never truly sure and that’s where the effectiveness lies.
A masterfully thought out film, that benefits from smart writing, effective direction and excellent work from the cast, Ex Machina is a film that is bound to make a mark on the viewer with its ideas and execution.