‘Ex Machina’ does not waste time, as soon as the logos have evapourated we fleetingly see the face of Caleb played by Domhnall Gleeson with curiosity and a will above all else for the truth. He wins a competition and is whisked away to Nathan’s private facility where he is creating the first ever working Artificial Intelligence System. Over the seven days of testing, Caleb must perform the scientific ‘Turing test’ on Nathan’s AI’ system, nicknamed Ava; the idea of which is to deduce God-like theories and philosophical concepts – do AI’s feel a consciousness? If disguised, would you know it is an AI? Is it ethical?
Oscar Isaac again impresses as the genius computer coder Nathan, even if his role is fairly minor compared to his other more influential body of work. At the remote facility Caleb is introduced to the AI known as Ava. She is played by Alicia Vikander with authority and control. In the films darkest moments she really is sinister and her presence is not as soothing as it once was.
The film itself feels withdrawn and held back but in a good way. As the three main characters are impressive and none of them let down the production at all, the casting choices must be commended. I could not help but feel that the Writer/Director, Alex Garland has been heavily influenced by the likes of David Fincher. The film has a very precise and pinpoint accuracy to it. None of the choices made, feel like they were easy ones or done without thought. Every element feels calculated and for a film like ‘Ex Machina’ it benefits and compliments the tone perfectly. The film is many things; thought provoking, fast paced and completely compelling. It sticks embedded into my brain and lingers there around my thoughts. I wonder is it long before we actually develop an AI?
You could almost draw a line under the film at a certain point where it abandons normality and becomes the film it deserves to be. However for the entire movie there is an underlying and brooding power to it. Then there is a single scene in the middle of the film and everything changes. From that moment on Ex Machina is nothing short of a white knuckle rid into the human psyche. Then the ending happens and it leaves you open mouthed and in tatters. Ex Machina is far too much to take in on a single viewing, because it has so much to say, the film comments on quite literally everything but most largely the internet and our collective paranoia towards it all. Garland speaks with such elegance and simple truth that it’s hard not to be challenged by it.
‘Ex Machina’ never comes to a halt for too long. It trusts its audience and will not give them the easy way out. This means that every fifteen minutes it mixes things up. This ensures that it is always compelling. The relationship dynamic between Ava and Caleb is intriguing. What Garland has successfully created is two dichotomous characters in Caleb and Nathan; Caleb being lost and confused while learning every moment more about his situation and Nathan having complete control over every aspect of what is produced and is calm and irrational. From the outset there is something untrustworthy about Nathan, the creator of the machine known as Ava. If you consider it for even a moment this is also the relationship between Director and Audience, the director controls everything that is seen and tries to use it to produce a desired effect while us the audience can only collect information and react accordingly.
The story is made all the more cohesive by the way it is structured. As with every scene with Ava and Caleb, text appears, reminding the audience what session number it is. It keeps the film easier to follow and means that we are never too puzzled or lost. Ex_Machina also still manages to find time for sublime humour, which I found freaking hilarious.
I may as well get over with what I disliked about the film, which is a very minor factor indeed. Within the first ten minutes we are introduced to Nathan. I would have liked to have seen how Caleb interacts back at his home, which would give us a better comparison between his interaction with humans and the relationship he builds up with Ava. I realised I was in need of something more and this interaction would have provided me with it. But I have a tendency to nit-pick and this did not detract from my overall experience in the slightest.
The music brings back fond memories of Trent Reznor and Attitcus Ross’ scores for ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Gone Girl’ both of which are David Fincher films. The two collaborators for ‘Ex Machina’ racket up the tension to unprecedented levels. The sound is very electronic and machine like. The film’s cinematography looks cold but has an elegance to it. Credit should also go to production designer Mark Digby for the film’s marvellous interiors, each of which tell a story of their own.
With ‘Ex Machina’ Alex Garland proves himself to be a worthy Writer/Director. If he can keep up this high quality of work, he can get far as a Director. For a first feature Garland accomplishes many things that long term directors still to this day fail to do. Dazzling camera work, compelling story-telling and above all a focus for characters and what makes them tick. For Garland this signals a calling card of the highest order and cements this work as one of the best first features for a very long time indeed.
Ex Machina gets a 9.0/10.