At high school, I would read a lot. I still do in fact, but back then my spare time was used more effectively with novel in hand. I remember falling in love with one particular story that wedged itself deep in my consciousness for weeks. The story, and the way it was written, captivated me so much that even when I wasn’t reading, the book was still on my mind. I loved the ambiguity of the characters and the distinct lack of heroes and a moral compass. That book was ‘The Beach’, by Alex Garland. So now, nineteen years later, after a few excellent writing efforts (28 Days Later and Judge Dredd to name but two), Garland finally went all the way and wrote the screenplay for ‘Ex Machina’, his first movie as director.
The narrative sees Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a software coder working for the world’s largest search engine, Bluebook, winning an opportunity to spend a week with the eccentric, troubled and complex Bluebook CEO, Nathan (played wonderfully by an off-the-wall Oscar Isaac), alone at his isolated, beautiful mountain retreat. Nathan introduces Caleb to a humanoid A.I by the name of Ava (Alicia Vikander) and encourages him to perform the Turin Test on her; a test designed to measure the A.I’s ability to seduce the tester into believing it is human. As the lines blur for Caleb, he begins to doubt who or what to trust and what it means to be truly human.
With a small cast and minimal locations, the movie feels very intimate and the performances are impeccable. Oscar Isaac stood out for me, displaying an excellent range from goofy science geek all the way to evil genius in one particular scene. Try as you may, you can never predict what he will do next, as displayed in his hilarious disco dance number alone (yes, disco, I kid you not). All the while he carries an air of malevolence boiling under the surface, which creates a palpable tension, engrossing you every time he is on screen. Gleeson and Vikander are fantastic and have great on-screen chemistry, making their implausible situation believable and leaving you constantly trying to predict where it will end. Vikander, with an innocence behind those doe eyes, will captivate you, passing your own Turin Test almost immediately. The creation of Ava as an on-screen character is stunningly realised and the special effects are flawless – from her slender, childlike, innocent movements, down to the running lights pulsing through her body like synapses passing information to the brain.
This movie had me reminiscing back to my first experience of Alex Garland, taking hold and playing on my mind long after the stylish and sombre credits had scrolled away upwards from my screen. Alex Garland’s direction is excellent, framing shots which playback almost like panels from a graphic novel. Combine this with the 80s, sci-fi inspired soundtrack and it will be with you for days, leaving you eager to watch again.
‘Ex Machina’ is quite easily one of my favourite films of 2015. If, like me you want to revisit this movie almost straight away, you’ll not be disappointed as it certainly welcomes repeated viewing. Knowing what’s to come only serves to produce fresh perspective, along with an ending that will put a wry smile on the most emotionless, android face.
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac