Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander
Directed by Alex Garland
As it’s explained early on in the film Ex Machina, the Turing Test was designed to gauge intelligence in a computer, requiring that a human being should be unable to distinguish the machine from another human being by using the replies to questions put to both. If there were a Turing Test to determine whether you as a viewer were simply watching a movie, or becoming immersed in another world entirely, Ex Machina not only passes, it surpasses.
It’s the directorial debut of Alex Garland, whose work as a screenwriter in the horror sci-fi subgenre has been nothing less than stellar (28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Dredd to name a few). Even though it’s a “first”, it feels as accomplished as anything by legendary directors such as Kubrick or Soderbergh. It’s got a highly intellectual, cold reality to it, but Ex Machina is equally imbued with soul, wit, and incredible suspense.
Best-known for his starring turn in Unbroken, Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a programmer who toils as a worker bee for the world’s biggest and best search engine, owned by the reclusive, brilliant, and a bit mad Nathan (Oscar Isaac, who played the title role in Inside Llewyn Davis). When Caleb is selected to spend a week at the eccentric gazillionaire’s isolated retreat with the man himself, Caleb is honored and delighted. After a long helicopter ride and a hike to get to the futuristic, architectural masterpiece Nathan calls home, Caleb quickly learns that it’s also a research facility and this is no paid vacation: Caleb has been selected to try the Turing Test on Ava (A Royal Affair’s Alicia Vikander), an uncanny android created by Nathan. Ava is beautiful and intelligent, but she’s not real… or is she?
Ex Machina is what I call an existential horror movie. It feels as visceral as anything created by the Crichtons, Spielbergs, and Scotts of an era gone by, but it’s got a very contemporary, current, and forward-thinking propulsion to it. There’s no soapy, saga-style crap (like Gravity or Interstellar), no needless action (a la Autómata), no moony romance (think: Her) – it’s a lean, mean machine.
Thankfully, there was a good budget in place to make everything look as flawless as the story itself (which isn’t to say it’s a complete mystery; I was able to anticipate all the twists, but the movie is so well-made, that didn’t matter). The cinematography, score, effects, locations, costumes, sets: all impeccable.