When a film is set in the near future, or a more advanced rendition of current day, there’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief implied. With Ex Machina, it rarely feels like watching an impractical sci-fi film.
Instead, it’s chilling how realistic it is given the plot, and suspending disbelief almost becomes irrelevant. Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a young coder who gets recruited to work on a special project at the remote house of Nathan, his company’s founder (played by Oscar Isaac). The project is to put a new A.I. model (Ava, played by Alicia Vikander) through the Turing test, which is meant to gauge a machine’s ability to act human.
As Caleb becomes more taken with Ava over the course of several interviews, as does she with him. They are separated by a glass wall, and monitored through a security camera by Nathan, and yet they can’t help but to establish an intimate relationship. Meanwhile, Nathan’s motives become increasingly questionable, and his behavior is often erratic. Isaac’s performance is pitch perfect, which as a result makes his character nearly impossible to pin down. I urge even the most jaded film viewers to keep their guessing to a minimum with Ex Machina. It’s surprisingly unpredictable, and allowing yourself to be taken for the ride is all part of the fun. Because of the nuanced performances from each main character, the film lends itself very well to repeated viewings, and will likely hold up extremely well over time.
Impressively, this is Alex Garland’s directorial debut. He is known for his screenplays, most notably Sunshine (2007) and 28 Days Later (2001). Though some thematic similarities are present in Ex Machina, it never for once feels derivative. Rather, it stands powerfully on its own. Given how extreme the plot is, the landscape of the film is comparatively simple and beautiful. This is partially a result of the film’s exceptional CGI, which never once falters. Ex Machina is an exciting addition to the sci-fi umbrella, and is easily one of the best from the past decade, likely to please not only those dedicated to the genre, but those who simply love film.
Ex Machina is out in Philadelphia area theaters today.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.