As a directorial debut, Ex Machina is a triumph for screenwriter and novelist Alex Garland. His earlier works such as Dredd and The Beach have demonstrated that he has a penchant for claustrophobia, and this film plays to this strength perfectly. Each of the three characters is isolated in their own unique way and as such, the audience feels exactly the same way watching Garland’s science fiction tour de force.
Garland’s directorial style suits Ex Machina perfectly; however, it is not just the director who shines throughout the film. Oscar Isaac brims with subtle menace as the internet mogul and modern day Victor Frankenstein, Nathan. His creation, the Artificial Intelligence, Ava is played perfectly by Alicia Vikander. While Domhnall Gleeson gives a strong performance as Caleb, he is somewhat overshadowed by his co-stars.
In the end, it is Vikander who steals every scene, and in fact the entire film. It wouldn’t be surprising for her character to become a science-fiction icon in the future, comparable to Maria from Metropolis.
We follow IT drone Caleb as he is whisked away to spend the week with his boss, Nathan, in an isolated research facility. He soon discovers that Nathan has a created an Artificial Intelligence named Ava, and he tasks Caleb with figuring out whether or not she is really alive through a series of interviews. As such, Ex Machina feels like a cross between I, Robot and The Island of Dr. Moreau, and it addresses the question of what it means to be human in an excellent way.
The approach to these topics is highly reminiscent of 2014’s Under The Skin, particularly in the way that Ava interacts with her human counterparts. Sadly, these two films don’t share the same level of cerebral nuance, which is not to say that Ex Machina explores these issues weakly, but when put in contrast to the earlier film it does fall a bit short.