Directed by novelist and screen writer Alex Garland, Ex Machina raises questions about life, the rise of technology and what playing God can do to you. After Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) wins a staff lottery he gets the chance to spend the week in the company of his boss and expert hacker Nathan (Oscar Isaac), where he becomes part of an experiment. The pair attempt to test Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robot with artificial intelligence created by Nathan, through conversation, to see if she can pass for human. However who exactly is being tested soon becomes unclear, and throughout the film we see how the rise of artificial intelligence calls into question more about humanity itself.
This is a tense clever and incredibly close sci-fi thriller, where all of the action comes from the ethical issues raised, and the mood created by Garland’s stylish direction. Despite it being his debut, Garland doesn’t hold back, and it seems his years of scriptwriting allow him to understand the importance of the intricate relationship between screenplay and direction, of style and substance, something he balances perfectly throughout. The score perfectly plays on the increasingly creepy nature of the film as more about Nathan’s experiments are revealed, and we become more and more unsure about who to trust.
Vikander’s performance is a wonderful one, and although she’s technically playing the least human character of all, it is her who seems to display the most compassionately human characteristics of all. There is something very simple and beautiful about the scene in which she dresses herself, covering her intricate mechanical workings and mesh that make up her robot figure with a pretty dress and cardigan, until she looks almost completely human. Juxtaposed with Caleb’s confusion about his attraction to her and the strange jealousy emanating from Nathan about this, Garland manages to take pedestrian actions and explode them into something which asks all sorts of questions about what it means to be human.
Isaac is terrifyingly creepy as the genius who has a lot of personal issues but always keeps us on our toes, switching from chatty and engaging to a drunken angry mess in seconds. With a cast of essentially only three, the relationships and the dialogue are what make this film a great one, taking twists and turns constantly unexpected, with the audience never sure who to trust, just as good sci-fi should be.
As well as this, Garland’s script is not afraid to be funny, to laugh at the ludicrous situation it is showing us, with millionaires and robots and big fields and helicopters and luxurious wealth. And despite raising interesting questions, it never attempts to make a moral judgement.
For a directorial debut this is simply stunning, and the cast are all as excellent as each other. It’s creepy, intimate, and hugely enjoyable.