Note: Originally Posted on Vibe Film 2nd of February 2015
A film written by Alex Garland was always going to be a good watch. The writer of 28 Days later and Sunshine, is playing to his strengths and turning out a quality Sci-Fi script with Ex Machina, a foray into the world of Artificial intelligence. Garland has proven himself as a writer many times over with his scripts being seen as insightful and intelligent and Ex Machina is no different. Ex Machina takes the artificial intelligence aspect of science fiction and flips it on its head. Instead of asking if it is possible for a machine to love, this film asks why shouldn’t a machine be able to love. That and much more comes into play in this smart, unsettling sci-fi thriller and Garland’s directorial debut.
Ex Machina is the story of Caleb (Gleeson) a computer coder working for google, or this film’s equivalent of google. Caleb wins a prize to spend a week with the reclusive C.E.O of this company, Nathan (Isaac). Caleb is then flown out to the remote estate of his boss, a land off amazing, sweeping landscapes all captured beautifully in a cinematic style that impresses throughout the entire film. When Caleb arrives, Nathan reveals the true purpose of the visit. Caleb is going to take part in a “Live Turing test” to see if Nathan’s creation, Ava (Vikander), an Android, really does possess a true Artificial Intelligence. From here the film is split into chapters or “Sessions” punctuated by Caleb’s visits to see Ava. As the film progresses Caleb inevitably falls in love with Ava, something that was to be expected, that being said, everything leading up to it is done with enough style and grace for it not to be seen as tacky or played out. The question that remains at this point becomes, does Ava love Caleb back? This becomes a source of conflict between Caleb and Nathan that is teased and played on throughout the rest of the film until the thrilling finale.
Key to the success of this film is the how convincing Ava can be. Vikander’s performance combined with breath-taking CGI really serve to sell the illusion of Ava to the audience. Vikander offers a sweet yet unnerving performance filled with subtle gestures and nuances to make you think there is something not quite human about this woman, and it’s not just her robot torso. Performance on the whole was well-executed throughout the film, to my shame I initially thought that Nathan was played by David Krumholts, the Jewish kid from 10 things I Hate About You, evidently I was wrong and the performance was top notch from Oscar Isaac as the alcoholic, health freak, creator with a god complex, there isn’t really more to say about the role than that. Unfortunately I felt that Gleeson as Caleb didn’t really deliver all that much, I found myself forgetting his performance and every scene he shared I found myself not really paying attention to him with Vikander and Isaac stealing the limelight in their respective scenes. Now Gleeson didn’t do anything wrong in his role but he was simply outshone.
Another thing I took issue with in the film would be the sound design, some of the music used I found didn’t really fit the film all that well and it could have been better applied, it is a minor problem but one that I noticed, besides this the film was very well put together.
Having mentioned the script at the beginning it could be easy to simply dismiss the quality by saying it is a good script but Ex Machina is a truly fantastically written film. Garland knows exactly what he is doing when putting a script together, he knows when to ramp up the pressure and tension and can do so without putting a life at stake. That being said when lives are on the line there is an odd serenity to things as if the audience is just supposed to accept what is happening which is extremely unsettling. He also knows when to break tension and ease things up a little, small comedic moments scattered throughout the film help to do this, these moments are few and only slight but effective and dissolving the tension.
This freshman effort from Garland as a Director is something truly special, it takes the artificial intelligence element of Science fiction and flips it on its head. It’s well written, well shot, well-acted and well edited. In conclusion this film is well good.