Ex Machina is an instant classic. It’s an intelligent, intriguing piece of science fiction that marks the directorial debut of Alex Garland, novelest (The Beach, The Tesseract) and screenwriter (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Dredd). With a miniscule budget of $16 million, Ex Machina goes a long way on story and ideas without resorting to spectacle.
The movie jumps right into things following Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), a computer programmer who wins a competition and is helicoptered to the remote home/lab of wealthy genius and search engine guru Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Between beers, Nathan has constructed a humanoid android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb learns that he will be the human component in a Turing test with Ava to see if she has the ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.
Ava feels like a distant relative of Rachel (Sean Young) from Blade Runner; alluring and almost-human. Alicia Vikander and Domhall Gleeson pair well in the six “sessions” of the Turing test and provide the necessary chemistry for the picture to work. Oscar Isaac bulked up for his role and continues to display his versatility after nice turns in Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year. He and Gleeson will appear together in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Ex Machina is a clever movie with slick production design and strong performances. It reminded me of Moon, another small budget modern classic that has a smart script, takes place in a confined space, has a very small cast, and was skillfully made by a first-time director (Duncan Jones). Both films are set in the near future and feel realistic, favoring big ideas to big chases, stunts, and explosions. Garland plays with classic sci-fi tropes such as A.I., consciousness, and man acting as god. The ingredients are familiar but they’re put together in an exciting way and damn near cooked to perfection.
4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Essential Viewing: Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Gattaca, Frankenstein
This is where I would normally post the trailer, but they all give too much away. Don’t do it!
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