Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a 24 year old coder at the world's largest internet company, wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain retreat belonging to Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the company's reclusive CEO. But when Caleb arrives at the remote location, he finds that he will have to participate in a strange and fascinating experiment in which he must interact with the world's first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot girl (Alicia Vikander).
Review by Louise Keller:
Like Joaquin Phoenix who falls in love with his operating system in Her, Domhall Gleeson is besotted by a robot endowed with responsiveness, beauty, femininity, compassion and humour. Scintillating for the most part, as the film explores what is the critical element that makes up humanity, Ex Machina's plot is audacious as consciousness; manipulation and sexual attraction are explored in a claustrophobic environment. Although there's a fatal flaw that diminishes its overall satisfaction rating, Alex Garland (who penned 28 Days Later) has conceived a dazzling film filled with intrigue and an innate edginess that is elevated by three startlingly good performances.
We meet Domhall Gleeson's nerdy computer programmer Caleb in the first scene, eyes glazed on his computer screen. The details of the competition he has won are sketchy; it is through Caleb's impressed eyes that we enter the world of his IT boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac): a remote fortress with helicopter access. Caleb is to assess whether Nathan's robot creation Ava (Alicia Viklander) has consciousness. How does she communicate? What does she know? How does respond? Does she actually like him or has she been programmed to like him? Or is she pretending? In other words, is there anything in her make up or behaviour that differentiates her from a human being?
Each of the three characters is beautifully drawn and are totally different. Gleeson is just right as the protagonist whose wide eyed enthusiasm turns to dismay; Viklander creates a stunning aura of intellect, sensuality and vulnerability as the latest robotic model; Isaac, with a buzz cut, full beard and heavy drinking habit is a revelation as the self-professed 'god' whose full intentions are not known until late in the piece. Having last seen Isaac in A Most Violent Year, it is almost a shock to see him in such a vastly different physical role.
The best scenes are between Caleb and Ava; it is in their third session that the sexual dimension presents ignites, as Nathan watches their every interaction on screens. But what of the regular power blackouts? And what lies behind the locked doors in the high security fortress? The high security windowless compound high in the mountains adds to our discomfort throughout and there are key moments in which the imagery will haunt you. In the final analysis, the leap of faith required in the resolution jars - but there is plenty else from which to be enthralled.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Borrowing body parts from the age old horror/sci-fi workbook, Alex Garland makes a female Frankenstein movie (sort of) and interrogates the pursuit of AI in the process. I won't reveal what he thinks is the answer or end result, but there are serious leaps of faith involved for the audience in the execution. All those leaps are assisted by high tech digital filmcraft, of course, but some knobbly problems remain.
On the other hand, there are beautiful nudes, a tantalising performance by Oscar Isaac as Nathan the cunning digital-industrialist and a seductive performance by Alicia Vikander as the machine with intelligence - and Nathan's cunning.
Set in an extensive underground complex on an extensive property in remote countryside somewhere in California, the film oozes style and mood. We arrive with Caleb - Domhnall Gleeson in good form - and see it all through his eyes ... and through the many cameras that record everything, relaying it to screens everywhere.
This is more a thriller than sci-fi, if labels and genres matter to you, and the premise that triggers the story is absolutely relevant in today's digitally turbocharged world. If we - or at least one of us - can figure out how to create a set of artificial cells that mimic our brains for its power to not only reason but manipulate human nature, we will have created a monster we cannot hope to control. Well, nothing new there, as I said, but at least it's a new way of saying it.
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EX MACHINA (MA15+)
CAST: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Corey Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno
PRODUCER: Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich
DIRECTOR: Alex Garland
SCRIPT: Alex Garland
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rob Hardy
EDITOR: Mark Day
MUSIC: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Digby
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 7, 2015