An absorbing and incisive tale of timely technophobia, Ex Machina places us in introverted coding prodigy Caleb’s (Domnhall Gleeson) shoes following a recent workplace lottery win. The prize? A week spent at his billionaire employer’s boundless woodlands estate. Upon arriving, one Nathan (Oscar Isaac) informs Caleb of his latest endeavor – a striking female A.I. named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Promptly fulfilling the role Nathan intended him to, Caleb’s initial hesitance turns to obsessive enthrallment as burgeoning ulterior motives threaten to upend the experiment.
We’re all familiar with the perils of advanced artificial intelligence. Whether it’s apocalypse or heartache-inducing, we as viable consumers of the medium have been subjected to numerous examples of tech-gone-AWOL – a borderline subgenre that breeds more discomfort within us than we’d care to admit. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, although palpably bill-fitting largely transcends tropes with alternating bouts of genuine intelligence and character-spurred suspense.
For as enigmatic as Isaac’s Nathan is, his surface-level charisma is enough to disarm and lull Caleb into an unassuming role as Ava’s interviewer. As Caleb’s contest “win” is shadily rendered negligible, Nathan’s quirks aren’t offputting, nor are his insights into the steadfast purpose of his experiment and penchant for imbibing. He’s a friendly and relatable recluse for all intents and purposes, and it’s this aspect of the character that discernibly panders to our muddy suspicions as Caleb’s daily sessions with Ava yield increasingly alarming results.
Barring the uniqueness of its three core subjects, Garland’s script also emanates an evocative layer of intelligence that’s effective despite overly-explanatory exposition. Said details are offered as if it’s assumed we’re entirely ignorant of the concepts touched upon, from the Turing Test’s front-and-center employment to the prominence of search engine profiling. It’s a necessary evil that becomes entirely forgivable as tensions mount and motives evolve; aspects that are doubly important in Ex Machina‘s sustained equilibrium.
Even though it backs itself into a somewhat foreseeable corner, Ex Machina effortlessly engages in the moments preceding the looming blowup suggested throughout. With excellent performances to compliment Garland’s intelligently tailored substance, the film breezes past familiar thematic trappings thanks to inherently captivating interplay, voyeuristic uneasiness and adherence to detail. You may find it hard to concretely sympathize with anyone in particular, yet this works in Ex Machina‘s favor as the murky morality card serves to leave a lasting impression.