The visually entrancing new film, “Ex Machina” by writer-turned-director Alex Garland (“28 Days Later”) revisits a classic sci-fi trope (artificial creation becomes self-aware) with a heavy bit of style and two scoops of peculiarity.
Twenty-something Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a skilled computer programmer, wins a contest to spend a week with his boss, the hyper-intelligent CEO billionaire of a dominant tech company, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Bateman flies Caleb to his extremely remote (and very secure) mountain compound to ostensibly be “dudes” together while potentially revealing a groundbreaking, sentient new form of artificial intelligence (AI).
Things soon become curiouser and curiouser as Caleb is entrusted with the assessment of the human-based AI in female form, Ava (Alicia Vikander). And, Ava soon surprisingly reveals to Caleb that her creator, Nathan, may be much more sinister than he initially seemed.
“Ex Machina” is bolstered by its exquisite production design. The film has a crisp non-cluttered look in Nathan’s gorgeous remote compound (actually a modernist, but otherworldly looking, hotel in northern Norway). Further striking, is the gorgeously, streamlined futuristic tech of Ava. Ava’s stunning appearance, a marriage of dazzling tech and feminine allure, feels and looks “real,” supported by the beguiling performance of Vikander.
However, Isaac’s quirky and increasingly odd and explosive embodiment of the isolative Nathan steals the film away from its very central creation. Isaac commands every scene he in, fascinating the audience as his initially somewhat socially appropriate layers are stripped away, revealing a self-destructive, angry man who has always felt ostracized by others. Isaac’s drunken dance scene as Nathan is unsettling to watch, and yet, his perverse domination of the screen is mesmerizing.
“Ex Machina’s” plot, itself, unfurls little in the way of new ideas, as its thematic revelations have already repeatedly been explored in such films as “Frankenstein” and “2001, A Space Odyssey,” as well as on the small screen in numerous “Twilight Zone” episodes. What the film offers, though, is an increasingly odd and disturbing experience, as you fall (with Caleb) deeper and deeper down Nathan’s dark rabbit hole. “Ex Machina” is rated 4 out of 5 stars.
“Ex Machina” is rated “R” (for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence).