EX MACHINA (Alex Garland, UK, 2014)
Widely exalted for his works as a novelist including the smash hit The Beach as well as providing screenplays for Sunshine, 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go, Alex Garland's directorial debut is an original work based on many famous facets of robots in cinema as well as expressing his love of science fiction with Ex Machina.
The film begins with Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) winning a competition at his fictional company BlueBook to spend a week with his elusive boss Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) in his reclusive home in Alaska. When there, Nathan asks Caleb to participate in a Turing test to talk to an AI robot Nathan has constructed and to see if his model Ava (Alicia Vikander) has consciousness.
What follows is a lot of smoke and mirrors as all three play games with one another, Nathan using Caleb to his will to see if the robot has feelings for him, Caleb realising he did not win a competition but is instead a pawn in an elaborate scheme and Ava herself planning to escape from her enforced prison by Nathan.
Garland's screenplay is expertly economical never wasting a word with unnecessary exposition, in essence treating his audience with the intelligence they deserve. Garland also shows a sure hand behind the camera creating an elaborate set design and changing the scene accordingly, helped by his cinematographer Rob Hardy who uses the sessions between Ava and Caleb as an ever increasing stand off as they are lit differently the longer the week goes on.
Garland exudes the movie with a wonderful tempo full of purpose and foreboding, helped by an excellent electronic score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury.
All three of the leading players are exceptional, Isaac is all ego but not without the charm needed to succeed at the top of his profession, Gleeson gives Caleb a mixture of innocence and loneliness in contrast to the high minded Nathan whilst Vikander brings the correct type of iciness to her portrayal of a very real robot.
With twists aplenty, the final message from the film is not so much a warning but an extension of the most Darwinist of ideals - if as Stephen Hawking has mentioned recently that AI might well exceed humans sooner rather than later - Garland's film makes the statement that in the end it is very much a survival of the fittest and the final image of Ava amongst humans suggests how would we be able to tell the robot from the humans, our advancements in technology might create our own downfall.
Ex Machina is out now on general release from Universal Pictures.