Friday, 23 January 2015

Ex Machina


Secreted amidst a remote sprawling range of snowy mountains stands a secluded, modern, minimalist retreat that harbours a revolutionary technological secret. When introverted yet gifted coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) unexpectedly wins a work lottery to spend a week with the notoriously reclusive CEO of Bluebook (think of a vastly superior futuristic version of Google), he instantly leaps at the chance. Upon arriving at Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) unusually clinical bachelor pad, Caleb is quick to learn that his week won’t consist of much relaxation.

Rather than lazy days full of games, drinking and male bonding, Caleb has slyly been recruited by the enigmatic Nathan to help test his latest development in AI intelligence. This new advancement takes the form of the striking Ava (Alicia Vikander) a state of the art female robot, whose endoskeleton unnervingly contains sparks of luminous neon blue that surround her exposed internal metal structures. A fervent Caleb is tasked with performing the Turing test on Ava, to see whether her behaviour is distinguishable from that of a human being. Over the course of the week Caleb has seven sessions to decide if she can pass the ambitious test.

Ex Machina sees acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, Dredd, 28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go) finally step up to take on the directorial helm. Garland adeptly crafts a disconcerting atmosphere of unease throughout, leaving questions over who is to be trusted in this clash for supremacy between man and machine. Though AI has been explored in countless films, Garland brings a fresh perspective to this age old sub-genre. In Johnathan Glazer’s mesmerising Under the Skin, Scarlett Johansson character fails to comprehend the advantages of her physical attraction, whereas Ava fully identifies and uses her sexuality freely.

DOP Rob Hardy (Testament of Youth, The Invisible Woman) revels in showcasing the futuristically cold colour tone, ever adding to the audience’s increasing sense of isolation. Whilst Issac’s and Gleeson’s alpha and beta males gradually collide, it’s Alicia Vikander’s perfectly captivating Ava who is the heart and soul of Garland’s sci-fi piece. Ava’s soft voice, hypnotically enchanting features and ever precise movements (Vikander's impressive ballet talents shine through) forces Caleb to question his fundamental beliefs in the distinction between AIs and humans.

A nearly flawless start to Garland’s directorial career, Ex Machina tackles many relevant and topical issues in a future that could be uncomfortable near. A strong three hander cast ensure this sci-fi tech film will be an enduring treat of 2015 and might make you think twice about what you type into a search engine.

★★★★
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