Ex_Machina (Review)

Reviewed by:
On 22nd January 2015
Last modified:22nd January 2015


UK Release: 21 January 2015

Directed by: Alex Garland

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac

What if a robot was so human, you didn’t know the difference between the two? This is the idea behind Alex Garland’s ‘Ex_Machina’ – an intelligent yet off-kilter look at the world of advanced robotics…

Domhnall Gleeson stars as Caleb – an ordinary man thrust into an increasingly extraordinary situation. Caleb is a computer programmer for a company called Bluebook. One of the largest search engine provider’s in the world, the company is owned by Nathan (Oscar Isaac) who is far more interested in what the global computer network can do for the field of A.I.

Artificial Intelligence.

That’s right – it’s another film about robots becoming self-aware… but while this is an age-old premise when it comes to science fiction, ‘Ex_Machina’ gives us a thoroughly modern take on the subject. And Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics seem like a distant memory.

[Review: Interstellar]

Introducing Ava (Alicia Vikander) – Bluebook’s prized A.I. construct. Able to interact in much the same way as humans, Nathan wants to put her to the test – in fact, the Turing test. And that’s exactly why Caleb is there.

The idea is simple – to prove that Ava is truly intelligent and self-aware by attempting to make Caleb believe that he’s interacting with more than a mere A.I… even though he knows she’s a machine all along. It’s a tall order, that’s for sure. But as you’ve probably guessed, things aren’t quite what they seem.

‘Ex_Machina’ is an unsettling journey into the unknown, for both the audience and Caleb. Thrust into a world where he’s uncertain of his employer’s motives, it plays out like a deleted scene from the start of ‘The Matrix’… and the tension only builds as Caleb starts to realise that something is amiss.

It’s not long before Caleb begins to doubt why he’s there in the first place… and it looks as though Nathan has been keeping secrets from him. Their friendship is a strange one – an odd mixture of two buddies hanging out, mixed with a creeping sense of paranoia that one might just kill the other.

Thankfully, Caleb has an unlikely ally as he and Ava become closer… much closer. And as he begins to develop a strange will-they-won’t-they relationship with the machine he brought in to evaluate, it looks as though they might just run away together and live happily ever after. If it weren’t for all those security measures surrounding them.

Obviously, the claustrophobic nature of Nathan’s extravagant yet eerily-restrictive private residence keeps the tone of the film in check. And with the expert use of candid camera shots there’s a sense of strange detachment – pulling us out of the room as we peer in at Caleb through plate glass walls.

In many ways, it’s an unsettling choice of filming style… but it’s entirely suited to the subject matter. Encasing our unfortunate hero in a prison of glass and electronically sealed doors, the feeling it evokes is reminiscent to the film ‘Moon’ by Duncan Jones.

There’s a feeling of isolation here – not just because of the film’s extremely remote location on Nathan’s ludicrously expansive private property. But also because Caleb feels trapped and alone, cut off from the outside world in much the same way that Ava is kept a secret.

It’s obvious that there’s some distance between us and the characters… and this strange sense of unfamiliarity keeps us on the edge of our seat. We know something isn’t quite right, and it becomes a matter of waiting for all to be revealed.

And when it happens, I can guarantee – it won’t be anything you were expecting.

‘Ex_Machina’ is science fiction in its purest form… and while the visual effects are as sharp and on point as the film’s message, it’s the story that really shines through.

Like most classic sci-fi, ‘Ex_Machina’ delivers a truly emotional story while taking the audience off into the realms of a futuristic unknown. But the artificial construct as we see her here is unsettlingly true to life. You can almost imagine this happening somewhere in the world right now.

[Review: Nightcrawler]

That’s in no small part due to Alicia Vikander’s extraordinary acting. Of course, Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac are equally incredible, but Vikander’s bewitching intelligence and sweeping beauty manage to captivate you at every turn.

And that’s rather the point.

Caleb is as captivated by Ava as we are… and as we watch him fall for a robotic construct who may or may not be playing him like a fiddle, we’re utterly helpless – forced to watch it all play out through the screen in the same way that Nathan watches on his security cameras.

‘Ex_Machina’ is intelligent, witty and perfectly on point. And while Ava may be only the latest in a long line of A.I project, ‘Ex_Machina’ is truly one of a kind.

Ryan Leston

About the Author

Ryan Leston is the Founder and Editor of Screen Jolt. He's a big movie nerd from Cardiff who loves all things Star Wars. His favourite Star Wars film is The Empire Strikes Back and he still wants to be Han Solo when he grows up.