Ex Machina review: An accomplished directorial debut by Alex Garland

Posted on 26 January 2015
By George Heron
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If someone were to ask you the question “Would you have sex with a robot?” What would your answer be? Yes or no, you may have to rethink your stance after watching Ex Machina.

The second of Oscar Isaac films released of late, this time he’s a reclusive child prodigy-turned-internet-billionaire who invites an employee of his search engine company Bluebook to his isolated mansion for a week-long holiday.

But it’s not a holiday Isaac’s Nathan has in store for the employee Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson). It’s an experiment with a newly-created, artificially-intelligent humanoid called Ava.

Claustrophobics be aware, Nathan’s mansion is extremely secure with keycards required to gain access to any room. Narrow corridors and rooms without windows are abundant to ensure as much privacy as possible.

The exchanges between android Ava and coder Caleb are the best part of this film, and more would have been nice, but we are at the mercy of a multi-billionaire and we only see what he wants us and Caleb to see.

Isaac further cements his status as one of the best up-and-coming actors of his generation, bringing an honesty verging on pedantry, yet sugar-coated with a friendliness that is designed to deceive. He’s not afraid to tackle these complex characters and you never think, “oh this guy’s just like Llewyn Davis or Abel Morales”. The sign of a great actor.

Domhnall Gleeson, on the other hand, always plays flawed characters, never one destined for greatness. He’s always a bit socially awkward and yet trying to be an everyman at the same time. It’s supposed to be realistic as nobody conducts themselves perfectly in any given situation.

Alicia Vikander is compelling as the Android in question. She has been given the power to be fully self-aware and wants to be normal just like everyone else as a result. The CG that creates her exposed, mechanised torso and limbs make you feel like something like that could exist today. Whether you like robots or not she is beautiful and surely it would be difficult for anyone to not succumb to her charms.

When a plot is not what you think it is there is a certain hackneyed word to describe it. Suffice to say there is plenty of that in here and not all of it you will like.

This is not an original film by any means. Many filmmakers have tried to highlight the dangers of artificial intelligence from The Terminator to I, Robot. You’ve gotta hope that inventors are taking all this to heart in their research and behaving appropriately. Ex Machina is another worthy addition to this genre and an accomplished directorial debut by Alex Garland.