Ex Machina – Review

Writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later & Sunshine) tackles the director's chair with a bold and brash look into the world of Artificial Intelligence.  The sexuality, suspense and sound design of Ex Machina all point to a real special first film experience from Garland.  Click through for my full review of this intriguing feature film debut that stars Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and the lovely Alicia Vikander.

The heart of the story revolves around the concept of proving AI is real.  So far this has not been accomplished in real life and this film asks if it did happen what might it look and sound like.

A24 has an enlightening video on this specific idea.

The film itself is rather enjoyable.  Whether you sympathize with the naive Gleeson character, Caleb, or the rich and mysterious Nathan played wonderfully by Oscar Isaac.  Then there is of course AVA.

Alicia Vikander is a perfect mixture of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation and a super hot model who has captivating eyes.  The visual design of the film hinges on Ava's look as well as the previous "models" who all have their flawed design.  Veteran special effects master Richard Conway (all of Danny Boyle's films and thus Alex's too) is at his finest with the intricate details of the AI's body structure.  But the real special elements of the film are not it's special ones but rather the shots of real life nature.  Cinematographer Rob Hardy's aerial shots of the Norwegian landscape might be the most impressive so far this year.  The incredible scope and size of the icy terrain mixed in with the lush green landscape makes for a wild transition.  Also the rock qualities of Nathan's amazing house are really quite beautiful to look at.  Basically minus the tricked out science of the house it's a humble abode I think anyone could appreciate for it's mixing of the natural world.  It's as if the home is a lovechild of Frank Gehry's curves and Frank Lloyd Wright's love of nature.  This promo has some great clips of the nature and also the awesome color palette of the film. 

The music and sound design of the film are also wonderfully showcased.  The futuristic beats are present in the slow building soundtrack and the way in which the design reflects the fluid nature of the set all perfectly meld together.  I especially love the heightened fear factor gained from the film utilizing an "alarm" to justify secrets being revealed.  Security is an obvious main element of the film and AVA's power over the home's security system is pivotal to the structure of the plot.  The moments when the screen is engulfed in a red warning light and a loud shrieking alarm are connected to the most revealing plot elements.  We meet the real Ava when the alarms are firing at their loudest.  The film does a great job of never allowing the audience to feel comfortable.  Just when you get settled the alarms fire off again and Caleb is thrust into a new truth about his surroundings.  The sonic palette of the film is uneasy, unpredictable and yet unifying. 

The cast of three terrific leads are the real hit or miss of the film.  Who you identify with and like can really impact the story for you.  Do you want to see the AI succeed, Caleb survive, or Nathan just be Nathan?  Personally I loved the mysterious qualities of Nathan.  The simple showcase of him loving to box really caught my attention.  His physicality is so different than other "mad scientist" roles.  Nathan is a genius no doubt, but he certainly doesn't come across as one with his bald head, ripped muscles and constant drunken state of being.  Alchohol's presence in the film could be another character.  Without it so much of the breakdown of the home would not be possible.  Gleeson's Caleb is meant to be us.  He wins a competition to meet Nathan and it's his innocence that is the moral high ground of the film.  Caleb is the good guy but is he the hero?  That element is what I love about this film.  There is no hero.  Only Ava.  Alicia Vikander is captivating not only because of her sultry sexuality but because of her own innocent qualities.  There are some amazing close-ups that showcase so much emotion and yet always have a tinge of confusion.  She is basically a baby that is trying to decipher the world around her.  But when Ava finally decides to act upon her want of freedom then the movie fully embraces her power.  She showcases all the elements of why people remain fearful of what AI will be capable of.  The film leaves us with many questions and screams for more from Alex Garland.  Don't hesitate to go see the first fun Sci-Fi film of the year. I'll leave you with this enlightening look into Alex Garland and his views on AI.

The film is out now in a theater near you.  For more details visit, here.

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