Ex Machina
dir-scr Alex Garland
prd Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich
with Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno, Corey Johnson, Symara A Templeman, Elina Alminas, Deborah Rosan, Chelsea Li, Evie Wray, Ramzan Miah
release UK 23.Jan.15, US 10.Apr.15
15/UK Film4 1h48
Ex Machina
Who am I? Vikander

gleeson isaac garland

35th Shadows Awards

R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Ex Machina Novelist-screenwriter Garland slips easily into the director's chair with a sci-fi thriller that's so remarkably contained that it would work well on stage. It's an intense freakout playing with ideas of identity and artificial intelligence, and at its core it's about people straining to be their best selves. Yes, Pinocchio wants to be a real boy.

At a search engine mega-corporation, gifted nerd Caleb (Gleeson) wins a competition to spend two weeks with reclusive boss Nathan (Isaac) on his estate in the middle of a vast Scandinavian wilderness. A beardy, muscled man with drinking issues, Nathan introduces Caleb to his achingly amazing robot Ava (Vikander), quizzing him about how it feels to interact with such a lifelike machine. Then the strange power cuts start. And the feeling that he's always being watched. And Ava warns Caleb not to trust Nathan.

The only other person in the house is Nathan's mute sushi chef Kyoko (Mizuno), so the film consists of relatively intense dialog between just three central figures, and all of it is bursting with subtext that deepens interest with subtle revelations and haunting flashbacks. Gleeson and Vikander are terrific as they carefully check each other out, and Isaac is simply mesmerising as the laid-back, vaguely sinister billionaire. Nathan is a knotty character: engaging and full of unexpected layers. So the interaction between the three is riveting.

It also helps that the film looks so fabulous. Not only are Ava and the house gorgeous, all glassy angles and encroaching nature, but the effects are seamless. As Nathan notes, "It's all so super cool, but let's get past that!" Soon the sleek imagery gives way to much more potent emotional undercurrents as the script starts dropping hints about where this could be heading. So even if the final twist feels somewhat pointed, it's the possibilities that get under the skin.

Garland packs the movie with ideas that keep our brains spinning. The central theme is the Turing Test, whether or not we know when we're interacting with a computer. And the inverse is just as intriguing, as we watch Nathan and Caleb treat Ava differently knowing she's a robot. Indeed, the film is packed with observations on the nature of attraction, and even more provocatively the question of whether art, thoughts and emotions are pre-programmed or discovered. Are Jackson Pollock's paintings planned or accidental? And would it feel strange to create something that hates you?

cert 15 themes, language, violence, nudity 12.Jan.15

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