Ex Machina is a near future sci-fi drama and the directorial debut for Alex Garland and it was one hell of a first film I have to say, centred on an ambitious billionaire Nathan played by Oscar Isaac as he sets about on testing an AI that he himself has created, in the story, he commissions a person to come and stay at his secluded mansion to interact with the AI.
The AI is called Ava, played by Alicia Vikander who has a pretty great performance in the film and the lucky prize winner is Caleb – Domnhall Gleeson, who gets invited to Nathans’ house, first of all the premise in itself is pretty great, the concept of a working, advanced AI and testing said AI for self-awareness and emotion raises a bunch of moral and philosophical thoughts. Ex Machina works very well in its’ rather small, focused setting and shows that you don’t have to have a huge budget, space faring sci-fi film or even have to have big action set pieces to make great thought provoking sci-fi and yes Chappie, I’m looking at you.
The film is driven a lot by its’ performances an Oscar Isaac is fantastic as Nathan, an alcoholic but driven man, trying to progress science in a sense and give the world a fully realized AI, as you find out he’s also a bit of a sociopath and doesn’t mind using people along the way to get what he wants, which includes Caleb and Ava. Who are also very good in the film, Domnhall Gleeson plays Caleb with poise and brings life to the character in a very believable way as a guy a bit out of his depth, hanging out in a billionaires house and doing tests on an AI, while Alicia Wikander brings apparent vulnerability and innocence to Ava. Nathan and Caleb have a strained but believable relationship important to the plot and you can sense from the start they don’t exactly see eye to eye, this just adds to the tension and gives the audience a reason to prepare for something to happen. And the plot itself is great because it’s so well put together and as straightforward as it is, it keeps you guessing and you can’t help but feel something is wrong, either with the whole set up for testing Ava or Nathan, that foreboding sense of tension and catastrophe lingers throughout the film.
And that is testament to how well made the film is, from its’ effective shots, often still and just showing Nathan and Caleb talk or used in conjunction with a plot twist or reveal, or used to pan away from the action and leave us to fill in the blanks, it’s very effective camerawork and contributes to the film. As does the music, which is excellent throughout and especially towards the mid-point and the ending, there’s a scene in particular where the music builds to a massive crescendo (I’m not too familiar with music terms) when Kyoko and Ava conspire together and it was probably the most tense scene in the film. The film to me had elements of a traditional horror film at points because of how it was shot and because of the effective use of music, showcasing the use of music in the film to create an atmosphere and add tone.
Ex Machina raises interesting questions about AI and the concept of being alive and being human, Alicia Wikander played Ava so well that you can’t help but sympathise with her and for all intents and purposes she is ‘alive’ and you probably sided with her and Caleb as you watched, but is what Nathan’s doing wrong, can you even harm an AI that doesn’t really feel? Is harming an AI that can feel morally wrong? I like to think that there is no real ‘bad guy’ in the end, Nathan was a bit short sighted but had great ambition, Caleb was in over his head and lost his mind a bit and Ava was sort a mystery in the end, was she testing Caleb and Nathan the whole time, playing them against each other to escape to the real world? It’s an interesting point to think about and that’s left ambiguous deliberately. Ex Machina is a very well made and thrilling film from start to finish with some excellent performances from Oscar Isaac and Alicia Wikander, Domnhall Gleeson are also great. The film poses some interesting questions while not necessarily beating the audience over the head with them and simply enough portrays an interesting, well contained story which is very well shot, with a great soundtrack to boot.
. Strong cast with some brilliant performances
. Very well shot, great soundtrack
. Ambiguous ending may leave some audiences feeling a bit cold