This is definitely a film I had to have a think over. It’s always nice to see a sci-fi that doesn’t necessary have a plot we haven’t seen before but portrays it in an unfamiliar way. Director Alex Garland in his debut outing is no stranger to writing isolation type set pieces (novel The Beach, Sunshine, 28 Days Later) and this is evidenced further in Ex Machina.
Domhnall Gleeson’s computer programming Caleb wins a competition to spend a week with the genius owner Nathan (Oscar Isaac), of the company he works for (Google parody) on his remote but ridiculously vast estate in the wilderness. Once there and all sorts of confidentiality agreements are signed they he finds himself part of a ‘Turing Experiment’ to prove whether the robot AI Nathan created has consciousness when put through a series of heavily monitored scenarios by Caleb. Things start to go awry in a number of different ways throwing up doubts about Nathan’s actual intent and just how much influence the ever probing Ava (Alicia Vikander) has over manipulating her situation.
Credit where credit’s due, I thought all around Ava was fantastic. She has the look of an unfinished masterpiece with mechanical core on show but with beautiful aesthetics to her as well. Her constant soft inviting tone as well as her elegant gliding movements provokes nothing but trust and understanding from Caleb and the audience alike. Vikander won’t be short of work in coming years.
The stage of which the scene was set was somewhere a bond villain might live. Large pane glass windows that intersect with the rocky surroundings with stunning landscape visuals definitely give it the ‘this is a facility’ feel and is further established when Gleeson’s windowless living quarters resemble a cell more than a guests lodgings. This miniature complex where some doors will open for Caleb and others won’t slowly unravels his trust for the situation he is in and goes to the tension that gradually builds between Caleb & Nathan.
All that being said I would probably agree with the comment that the third act needed to be a bit more climatic, the piece goes along at a steady pace revealing each characters motives in turn but does nothing to leave any sort of payoff when things start to come to a close.
The closest thing I can relate this film to is a cross between the setup of Panic Room and the message/mechanical nature of I, Robot. A stylish AI thriller with decent acting that moves at a steady pace that leaves you with a bit of intrigue. While both Isaac’s & Gleeson are good this is definitely Vikander’s show. There is something missing that would have made this a great movie but it is a good first outing for director Garland.