ex machina

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 108 minutes

Synopis: Caleb (Gleeson), a computer coder, wins a work lottery. The prize? A week with company head, and recluse, Nathan (Isaac) who wants him to test his latest invention, an embodied artificial intelligence known as Ava (Vikander).

2015 film has started off strong, THE THEROY OF EVERYTHING, and BIRDMAN have had audiences captivated since their New Year’s Day release, and now in week four comes another spark of brilliance from EX_MACHINA. Finally amongst all the remakes and reboots, sequels and prequels, comes a truly original story. Written by Alex Garland, the scribe responsible for 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE. THE BEACH and DREDD, EX_MACHINA is a beautifully thought-out tense philosophical thriller that will keep the grey-matter engaged for the duration. The title is clearly inspired by the latin phrase ‘Deus Ex Machina’ which translates roughly to ‘God from the machine’ and offers a tantalising insight into what the film has in store.

Garland, who makes his first foray into directing, jumps straight into the story at the deep end, forgoing an extensive build-up opening, and has the audience sitting in the same shoes as protagonist Caleb.

Caleb arrives on Nathan’s private estate to discover that he has won the opportunity to conduct the ultimate Turing Test and decide whether a revolutionary new Artificial Intelligence can pass for human; is it just a machine, or a genuinely sentient being? This is obviously an ideology that has been around for years’ do androids dream of electric sheep? Making the test all the more difficult is the subject of the test, Ava, a humanoid ‘robot’ whose appearance and actions have Caleb questioning everything.

The audience is as much in the dark as Caleb, we go on the journey with him, we see what he sees and learn what he learns all at the same time. This creates a welcome sense of unease – this film isn’t going to spoon-feed the audience and you better pay attention if you want to keep up. Breadcrumbs of information and half truths will have you jumping to all sorts of conclusions, though refreshingly not the ones you should. Plot developments will leave you questioning everything and everyone before reaching the climax.

The performances are all truly superb, each making their character feel completely real, which given that one of them isn’t human is truly incredible. Gleeson plays nice guy Caleb exceptionally well, the audience instantly connects with him, and given that he is our window into the secret world of Nathan and his creation, this is of course a good thing. Caleb’s naïve good-hearted awkwardness is the perfect foil for Nathan’s ‘rock star’ narcissist alcoholic computer genius. We’ve seen eccentric billionaires in film before, but none quite like him.

It is Ava, however, that steals the entire film. Vikander’s performance is so mesmerising and moving that you will genuinely believe she is a robot playing human. Hauntingly both human and inhuman all at once, the performance is reminiscent of last year’s UNDER THE SKIN. Even more impressive are the visual effects, almost all of Vikander’s features have been wiped out, replaced with wires and circuitry. The absence of anything other than her face, hands and feet draws you in further, the wires almost instantly forgotten.

Common pitfalls for films within this genre of course centre around the validity of the science. Thankfully EX_MACHINA skirts this issue and, although stretching the imagination and bending the rules ever so slightly, manages to offer a tangible peek into our future. EX_MACHINA is a compelling insight into how artificial intelligence and robotics may advance in the future. The film contains some interesting true-to-life nods towards genuine research and is realistic in its portrayal of how we may eventually achieve the vision that Ex_Machina presents to us.  Science enthusiasts will be intrigued as Nathan and Caleb discuss real theories.

In EX_MACHINA Garland has crafted an incredible script which, coupled with stunning visuals and thumping score, results in a fantastic intellectual science fiction film for the Google generation. A chilling cautionary tale, the likes of which we’ve not seen since the early days of James Cameron.

[usr=5] EX_MACHINA is released in cinemas across the UK from 21st January 2015.