Despite the hoopla over mega-franchise films, Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller is the most intriguing movie I’ve seen so far this year. As it begins, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a geeky, 24 year-old computer programmer, wins a company ‘contest,’ entitling him to spend a week at the remote Alaska estate belonging to his legendary boss, the brilliant-but-elusive billionaire Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Read on…
Arriving at the mountain retreat by helicopter, Caleb makes his way into Bateman’s modernist, minimalist glass-and-steel compound; it’s a high-tech research facility, much of which is subterranean.
An exercise/fitness fanatic, alcoholic Nathan tries to put him at ease, but Caleb is astounded by the Jackson Pollock paintings and other fine art, along with Kyoto (Sonoya Mizuno), a beautiful, silent servant.
Caleb’s even more awestruck when he learns the purpose of his visit. He’s to take part in the Turing Test, named for British artificial intelligence guru Alan Turing and referenced in “Blade Runner” – because Nathan has created what he believes is a sentient robot. Her name is Ava (Alicia Vikander).
Over the next few days, Caleb interacts with Ava, politely posing questions and evaluating her responses. As their sessions grow more and more ominous, the flirtatious, free-thinking android adapts to this stranger, slyly and seductively establishing the roots of a friendship and, perhaps, more.
That’s all you need to know. Revealing more would ruin the surprises and dilute the suspense.
Novelist-turned-screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine”) makes an auspicious directing debut in this chilling exploration of the human psyche – in a style eerily reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick.
Working on a $13 million budget, kudos to production designer Mark Digby, costumer Sammy Sheldon Differ and cinematographer Rob Hardy.
FYI: Seen in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Domhnall Gleeson is the son of Irish actor Brendan Gleeson; he’s starring in George Lucas’ upcoming “Star Wars.” Oscar Isaac is best known for “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “A Most Violent Year,” while Swedish actress Alicia Vikander is an ex-ballerina, last seen in “Anna Karenina,” and “A Royal Affair.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ex Machina” is an intense, mind-melding 9, derived from the Greek phrase “Deus ex machina,” or “god from the machine,” referring to a dramatic, problem-solving plot device.