RELEASED: 21st January 2015
DIRECTOR: Alex Garland
CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno
BOX OFFICE WORLDWIDE: $36.8m
AWARDS: 1 Academy Award (Best Visual Effects)
Ex Machina has us following a programmer named Caleb Smith, who wins an internal competition within the company he works at to spend one week with the company owner, Nathan Bateman, out in the mountains at his home. When Caleb arrives to discover that it’s a state-of-the-art facility out in the mountains, Nathan explains to him that he is assigned to evaluate the reactions and emotions of an artificial intelligence in a female body named Ava.
After writing scripts for feature films 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go and Dredd, 2014’s Ex Machina would mark Alex Garland’s directorial debut feature and boy what a debut it is. It’s a small sci-fi drama with grand ideas, asking questions like what does it mean to be human? and the film is a slow-burn, dialogue-driven, psychological thriller as Caleb begins to question why he is part of Nathan’s Turing Test to judge whether Ava is genuinely capable of thought and consciousness despite knowing that she’s artificial. Did he really win the office contest at random or was he carefully selected? Once Ava tells him not to trust Nathan during a power outage, Caleb’s isolation from the outside world in this smoke and mirrors type of modern home begins to enhance his paranoia, even becoming curious as to whether or not if he himself is artificial. The use of the Juvet Landscape Hotel and the Summer House in Norway as the ‘singular’ location in the story is well executed, as is the use of mirrors and dimmed lights, making the space feeling more claustrophobic to fit with Caleb’s confused mental state as the week progresses, thanks to the work by Michelle Day, Katrina Mackay, Denis Schnegg and Mark Digby in regards to Set Decoration, Art Direction and Production Design. There is still some shots outside of the home and the landscape is captured with some wonderful cinematography work by Rob Hardy, and the score from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury works beautifully with the film. As familiar as the the premise of the film feels, it’s the performances from the ensemble that elevate the material. Oscar Isaac is great the terrific mind behind BlueBook and the creator of Ava, the supposed first humanoid robot with artificial intelligence. Isaac’s performance as Nathan balances the fine line of playing a guy that you would feel comfortable to be in their presence and have a laugh with, yet underneath you can’t help but feel that there’s something off about him. Domhnall Gleeson is also great as Caleb, who unbeknownst to him ends up being caught in this cat and mouse game between Nathan and Ava. Alicia Vikander is fantastic as Ava, the subject of the Turing Test, with her performance bringing that sensuality and her body movements make the artificial intelligence more…human. The visual effects for Ava and Kyoko are well done, and this feels more like a director starting to hit their stride after a few features, let alone their debut, and I look forward to seeing what Alex Garlands brings us through the 2010s.
FAVOURITE SCENE: It feels so out of place with the rest of the film, but I can’t help but love Nathan and Kyoko’s dance to Oliver Cheatham’s ‘Get Down Saturday Night’, especially with Caleb looking on absolutely bemused.
FAVOURITE QUOTE: “You tore up her picture.
I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude.” – Caleb and Nathan
DID YOU KNOW: Oscar Isaac said he based his characterisation of Nathan on Bobby Fischer and Stanley Kubrick, who he sees as mysterious, elusive geniuses. The now iconic look of the latter also served as an inspiration for his beard.
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