I have this issue with sci-fi movies. Either some random robot or alien tribe loves us unconditionally or wants to destroy us completely. There’s no “I’m fine with tolerating you” or “I kind of want to kill you, but that seems to be frowned upon in earth” attitude portrayed in this genre of film.
Though these movies are plenty entertaining, I just can’t help but think that the chances of these situations actually happening are pretty low. So naturally, I walked into Alex Garland’s new film “Ex Machina” with somewhat of an underlying skeptical attitude. I expected a robot. I expected some weird stuff to go down. I even expected some humans to be tossed around. And I was right. But I didn’t expect one outcome. I didn’t expect to come out saying, “That was the best film I’ve seen this year.” And ladies and gents, you better believe I did.
Written and directed by Alex Garland (who previously wrote “28 Days Later”), “Ex Machina” centers on a young, gifted programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleason). Caleb works for a search engine company called Bluebook, headed by genius inventor Nathan (Oscar Isaac). After submitting his work for a company-organized competition, Caleb wins a chance to spend a week with the boss himself. But for years, Nathan has hidden himself from public view, living alone on a massive piece of land in an effort to protect his latest project.
Though Caleb has absolutely no clue what’s going when he arrives at Nathan’s massive estate, his cryptic boss quickly reveals his purpose for being there. In one week, Caleb is supposed to play the human component in the Turing test with Nathan’s newest invention, a full-functioning robot model with artificial intelligence. If you are completely on track with what I just said, then congratulations you’re smarter than me (or a fifth-grader considering they are probably interchangeable). But if you are on my level and lack the slightest clue of what I just said, then here’s the breakdown.
The Turing test, developed by Alan Turing (“Imitation Game” anyone?), is an assessment used to evaluate whether a machine can display human-like characteristics and behavior. The simple version of this test is carried out by asking a series of questions that analyze the machine’s responses.
So in “Ex Machina,” Caleb tests Nathan’s beautiful creature, Ava (Alicia Vikander), in six sessions over the course of the week. Sounds simple enough right? Caleb stays caged in his protected, mic’d box. Ava behaves herself (like a human. Good one, Blair). And Nathan takes his notes. Well, that’s not exactly all that happened.
After a day, Caleb starts to pick up on some suspicious power cuts in the house, hears startling comments from Ava, and discovers some of Nathan’s mysterious irregularities. Yet as the week progresses, Caleb and Ava grow close. Very close. Because I want you to see this film more than any film I’ve written about, I can’t say much more.
But I will say that the last half of the movie is too wildly complicated and mind-blowing to reveal. As the film was ending, my jaw was actually dropped for a good thirty minutes. Lesson learned: when you have a hot robot, a suspicious genius, and a skilled problem-solver in one house, some weird stuff does actually go down. And for the first time leaving a sci-fi film, I was genuinely worried if parts of the movie have already happened in the real world or are coming in the future.
As I was walking out of the theater, one of the other movie critics, who specializes in sci-fi films, said, “Well, that’s as good as sci-fi gets.” And he could not have said it any better. “Ex Machina” matched and dare I say exceeded the brilliant execution of suspense found in last year’s “Gone Girl.” The narrative shocked me, shocked me, and then shocked me again, yet the twists and turns in the writing were fluidly portrayed onscreen throughout the entire film.
Garland’s directing style resembled the choices of the infamous David Fincher, which also sparked more moments of “Gone Girl” comparison. Anyone remember that unforgettable scene between Neil Patrick Harris and Rosamund Pike? If you saw “Gone Girl,” of course you do.
Well, “Ex Machina” throws in several of those what-on-earth-is-happening moments. The setting was sleek and spotless, which cleverly contrasted with the content of later scenes. Throughout the film, I felt like I was watching a masterpiece. Albeit a frightening masterpiece.
The actors’ portrayal of their characters exceeded any of the performances I’ve seen in recent films. Domhnall Gleason brought an innocence and charisma to Caleb that kept his protagonist status clear throughout the tumultuous week. Also, I have to give the casting director major props for hooking Oscar Isaac. He was downright perfect for the role of Nathan. His natural edge gave Nathan an undeniably perplexing image and made his every move questionable.
Now onto Ava. Oh Ava. That was by far the sexiest robot you’ll probably see in a film this year (and she looked the way she did for a reason. You’ll have to see it to know why.) Alicia Vikander played Ava, well, like the epitome of a human. Like a very attractive, deceivingly naïve and slightly creepy human.
All around, “Ex Machina” is a film that everyone would love. You could be a sucker for romance flicks, action blockbusters, or films about acrobatic cats for all I care, but I guarantee you this: “Ex Machina” is worth the price of a ticket no matter what your favorite genre is. I must warn you though. Your adrenaline level will be shot for about 24 hours, and you might possibly develop a fear of well, everyone.
The anticipation is killing me for you, so go see “Ex Machina” and relieve me of my stress. I hope no aliens or robots crush us all before you get a chance to see it. That would really suck for both of us.