Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina is terrifying, but not necessarily in the way that you’d expect from a film being reviewed on a horror site. Its terror is bedded very deeply in our own reality. With the regular technological leaps and bounds and robotics coming along alarmingly quickly, it’s not difficult to believe what Ex Machina is selling.

Young coder Caleb works for an Apple-like conglomerate called Bluebook. One day he receives a notification that he’s won a company-wide lottery that will award him the chance to go to Bluebook mogul Nathan’s secluded estate for a week long glimpse behind the proverbial curtain.

Once there, Caleb is soon informed that has actually been brought in under false pretenses and that he’s got the option to take part in a mind-blowing experiment involving artificial intelligence. Being a curious fellow, Caleb quickly agrees and is given the task of being the human component in a Turing Test; a test to ascertain whether or not an AI can succesfully convince the tester that it’s intelligent and independent enough to pass for human. When it’s revealed that the AI in question is housed in the body of beautiful young woman named Ava, things start to get complicated and ethical lines are blurred.

Ex Machina is screenwriter and novelist Alex Garland‘s directorial debut and it’s breathtaking. It helps that his trio of stars are all exciting up-and-comers (two of whom will soon be seen in the next of the Star Wars franchise) but his directing prowess can’t be denied. Visually the film is stunning, but the performances are what ground the film in some much needed reality. Domhnall Gleeson is just the right mixture of inquisitive and morally malleable and Oscar Isaac is perfect in his portrayal of a dangerously egomaniacal genius. Alicia Vikander, though, is the real star. She gives Ava the perfect combination of manufactured innocence and worrying mystery, and manages to recreate the movements of a humanoid robot so well that you may start to wonder whether she’s real or not.

Without believable interaction and flawed characters the sci-fi elements might have seemed far-fetched, but even as someone with limited knowledge of computing and robotics, the events seemed terrifyingly plausible to me.

It’s this level of believability which provides the film with its horror, and why I’ll defend its inclusion on this site. The work that companies like Boston Dynamics are doing and Google’s desperate acquisitions of any and all technological breakthroughs that they can get their hands on certainly lends the film much weight.

The world in which these characters inhabit is sparse and clinical but also feels completely realistic. Outside the complex is lush greenery and impressive waterfalls which punctuates the sobriety and foreboding throughout, and provides a reminder of what Ava is missing out on.

Ex Machina is an almost perfect psychological sci-fi thriller. It’s a film that requires mutliple viewings and will undoubtedly leave you thinking about perceived morality and the events that transpire for days or even weeks after. Magnificently acted, well written and directed and a terrifying glimpse of what could very well be our future. I, for one, am skeptical about welcoming our robot overlords.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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