Review: Ex Machina

2015/04/10 15:16:14 +00:00 | Heather Wixson

Acclaimed screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd) moves into the director’s seat for the first time with Ex Machina, a stunning and thought-provoking exploration of what differentiates humanity from the machines it produces and the dangers of bearing such magnanimous responsibilities once artificial life has been created and must be contended with. A harrowing and intimate film that poses a lot of intelligent questions, Ex Machina demonstrates that Garland’s skills as a filmmaker are just as compelling as his screenwriting prowess.

Ex Machina follows Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), an entry-level programmer for a popular search engine company who wins a contest at work one day, giving him the chance to spend a week shadowing the organization’s reclusive CEO named Nathan (Oscar Isaac) who works solely from his isolated compound situated in the middle of nowhere. Once he arrives, Caleb learns Nathan’s real reason for bringing him there- to perform a Turing Test on Ava (Alicia Vikander), an artificially intelligent being Nathan has created. The Turing Test, a series of questions created in the mid-1900’s as a way to determine whether or not artificial intelligence also has a sense of consciousness to it, is supposed to clear up any queries about the status of the A.I., but as Caleb gets deeper and deeper into his study of Ava, he begins to question everything he believes about humanity, the scientific process and even his own existence as the puzzle pieces of Nathan’s dastardly real agenda all begin to fall into place.

Sometimes there are sci-fi films that simply celebrate the tropes that make this cinematic genre so great and then there are films that find a way to elevate all those devices and put them to use in such a clever and intricate ways that you can’t help but marvel at their existence. Ex Machina absolutely falls into the latter category as Garland has crafted an intricately conceived modern fable about the dangers of emerging technologies and how that may ultimately affect our own humanity as well. And considering how much technology has progressed in the last decade alone, the concepts that Garland explores here have an eerie sense of foreboding to them, adding a palpable uneasiness to the story.

Garland masterfully instills an air of mistrust throughout the film, implying that so much more is happening than what we’re seeing on the screen, so when certain character misdirections are revealed in the third act, you almost feel like standing up and applauding Garland’s confidence in his bold and insightful risks he takes with the film. Ultimately though, this is Garland’s own caustic twist on a modernized version of Frankenstein, with Caleb left to decide who the true villain in Ex Machina is- the monster or the genius madman who created her- and the results are a wondrously chilling gut-punch finale that has stuck with me for weeks.

Much of Ex Machina revolves around the conversations between just three entities and Garland somehow found a way to make every discussion or idea introduced feel just as exciting as any action sequence you’d see in a studio blockbuster hitting the big screen this summer. And as expected, a lot of that is due to Garland’s darkly engaging script, but Ex Machina also deftly succeeds due to the performances from co-stars Isaac, Gleeson and Vikander, with the trio of intriguingly talented actors  all delivering incredibly engaging and ambiguously nuanced work in the film.

It’s also worth noting that the cinematography from lensman Rob Hardy does an amazing job of immersing viewers inside of Nathan’s claustrophobically beautiful puzzle-box of a world, utilizing light and a vivid color palette to bring in some warmth to the otherwise stark and chilly environment. Every shot feels so deliberate and carefully thought out and Hardy deserves a lot of praise for finding ways to keep the film’s sole location something of a mystery in itself with his visual flair behind the camera.

Ex Machina is the kind of film that proves that some of the very best cinematic storytelling can be based on ideas, not necessarily grandiose action set pieces and crazy, over-the-top concepts that many bigger studio projects often rely on. If you can create compelling characters, give them something real and complex to explore, all while finding a way to make the story wholly your own, then you’ve succeeded as a filmmaker. Garland has far exceeded any kind of expectations fans of his work could have had going into Ex Machina, as he’s crafted one of the most memorable sci-fi films (and directorial debuts) I’ve seen in some time.

Movie Score: 4.5/5

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.