Smart, scintillating, and scary – Ex Machina is one of the most discomforting and intelligent films of 2015 so far.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Tom Munday
In Ex Machina, typical office drone Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a week of pristine luxury with his company’s charismatic, game-changing CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac) at his tantalising abode in the middle of nowhere. The dynamic, however, is tested after Caleb is tasked with communicating, via Turing Test, with a humanoid Artificial Intelligence being named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Surrounded by Nathan’s peculiar assistant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), Caleb, Nathan, and Ava become embroiled in each other’s psyches.
Writer/director Alex Garland, no stranger to ambitious genre cinema thanks to 28 Days Later and Dredd, has constructed a thought-provoking and impactful sci-fi-thriller with a twist, or ten. Made for just $13 million, Garland and co. efficiently turn Nathan’s uber-modernised home/research facility into a dangerous, labyrinthine maze. The facility’s polished, futuristic aesthetic crafts a balance between original vision and derivative touches. In the vein of Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, and Danny Boyle, Garland’s eerie, atmospheric style welds you to the seat throughout its appropriate 108-minute run-time. The transition from awe-inspiring to discomforting separates Garland’s work from that of any bigger name. Thankfully, light comedic reprieves come thick and fast; Nathan and Kyoko’s dance number is weird, wacky, and wonderful.
Ex Machina’s underlying intensity builds throughout the crackling keep-you-guessing narrative. Divided up via “Ava: Session…” titles, Garland’s taste for hyper-violence and psychosexuality hurls the audience into a twisted vision of the not-too distant future. Acclaimed cinematographer Rob Hardy captures Nathan’s enviable Scandinavian surroundings immaculately. Like similar Garland-Driven vehicles (Sunshine and The Beach, in particular), paranoia and deception become powerful weapons in the hands of his sniveling, irritable subjects. Testing his characters and audience, Ex Machina strives at subverting and criticizing blockbuster conventions. It proves less really is more.
This sci-fi thriller, despite its overwhelming technical accomplishments, only plunges into the shallow depths of its thematic allure. Juggling Artificial Intelligence and social networking amongst other monolithic topics, its top-heavy introspection merely says what we are already thinking. Sadly, like most recent, similar sci-fi flicks, it fails to craft new perspectives or concepts. Its insight into human interaction and pornographic titillation, cynically points the finger without reason. Conversations between Caleb and Nathan thrust the techno-fear messages front and centre. In addition, the third act is a head-scratcher for right and wrong reasons.
The central trio brings gravitas and charm to this cold, distant Twilight Zone-like tale. Gleeson, son of character-actor Brendan, fuses innocence and sliminess throughout his intriguing lead role. Coming off About Time and Unbroken, this flick might just hurl him into the A-list stratosphere. Gleeson and Isaac, though fitting into familiar roles, convincingly play off one another. Isaac’s raw charisma elevates his moustache-twirling villain character. Vikander also steps into the spotlight with an immeasurable performance, capturing many jaw-dropping ticks and mannerisms. Her character’s signature look, complete with mesh-like torso and intricate circuits, accentuates the movie’s taste for originality and detail.
Despite its minor flaws, Ex Machina’s attention to detail, interesting characters, and glorious style elevate it above recent sci-fi schlockers (Jupiter Ascending, Chappie). This sci-fi thriller, unlike many, is not afraid to tackle the past, present, and future simultaneously. Before seeing it, whatever you do, please ignore the spoiler-ific trailers!
Ex Machina is in Australian cinemas as of Thursday May 7
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures