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Ex Machina – film review

May 7, 2015


A beautifully-crafted, thought-provoking directorial debut.

Reviewed on Tuesday 28th April 2015


Written & directed by Alex Garland. Starring: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Sonoya Mizuno. Running time: 108 mins.

Young computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is summoned by his reclusive boss; brilliant billionaire search engine designer Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaacs) to spend several days at Nathan’s secluded laboratory in order to assess, via direct interaction, whether or not Nathan’s latest creation, a female robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), truly possesses artificial intelligence and is thus a self-aware and cognitive being.

Alex Garland is an English novelist and screenwriter best known for his cinematic collaborations with Trainspotting director Danny Boyle; with such genre efforts as 28 Days Later and Sunshine. He also wrote screenplays for Dredd and Never Let Me Go. And this smart Transhumanist sc-fi love story cum psycho-sexual thriller, Ex Machina, marks Garland’s long-awaited bow in the director’s chair.

As much as Neil Blomkamp’s profoundly ugly and mean-spirited Chappie desperately professed to explore the concept of artificial intelligence in a supposedly serious way (covering similar ground to Ex Machina), that film is painfully shallow in comparison to Alex Garland’s helming debut. The philosophical and moral ramifications resulting from creating consciousness within a man-made being are explored in a much less ham-fisted and more meaningful way here. But to go any further will be edging into spoiler territory – so I’ll just leave it at that.

Performances from the tiny cast feel just right for the material and Oscar Isaac’s turn as entrepeneurial, rock ‘n roll, vodka-chugging scientist Nathan Bateman has got to be the most entertaining and unique portrayal of a white coat ever seen in a sci-fi movie. Indeed, his performance provides the film with many moments of laugh-out-loud humor (the impromptu dance sequence where a drunken Isaacs disco jives with his Japanese Girl Friday Kyoko on his own purpose-built dance floor is a comedic highlight). But while Isaacs undoubtedly steals the show, it must be said; the nuanced, pitch-perfect performance by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander as the robot Ava is also a big part of why this film works so well. While being sympathetic, there is also a slightly sinister edge to her performance which is entirely compelling, while Garland’s intelligent and engrossing screenplay keeps the viewer very much engaged as we continually reassess what the characters’ true motivations might be. Despite the liberal sprinkling of humor throughout; there are also several moments in Ex Machina which are profoundly disturbing; not so much in a visceral sense – but most definitely on a psychological level. But I won’t be going into spoilers here.

The visual effects depicting Ava (supervised by Richard Conway) are integrated so seamlessly; we never question what we are seeing as being anything other than a real character. The lush green Norwegian locales (meant to be somewhere in North America) are breath-takingly beautiful, with the Juvet Landscape Hotel nicely utilized as Nathan’s retreat. And the widescreen cinematography (with Garland’s framing of scenes very much recalling the work of Stanley Kubrick) definitely makes this one     to be seen on the big screen. The atmospheric and thrumming synth score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow also beautifully underscores the clean lines of the look     of the film.

As well as heralding the arrival of an exciting new directorial talent in Alex Garland, Ex Machina will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most thoughtful and important sci-fi films of recent times.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova Eastend Cinemas, Adelaide, April 28th 2015.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

From → film reviews

  1. You had the same issue I had trying to write a review without spoilers, knowing that the best way to experience the film is utterly ‘clean’. I received the two-disc ost yesterday and it perfectly captures the ambient, laid-back atmosphere of the film (“sleepwalking into the Apocalypse” I call it).


    • gregory moss permalink

      “Sleep walking into the Apocalypse” – nice! I’m very keen to get the OST myself. And yeah, virtually impossible to get into the nitty gritty of this film without getting into spoilers – which I guess is the sign of a great movie!


  2. Oh! Hey! So glad you reviewed this – I know it’s your “genre”. 🙂 I saw this back in February or whenever it was out in the UK. Loved it! Still my favorite film so far this year. Wish all sci-fi could be this good. This was a million times better than things like Interstellar…. Great review. 🙂


    • gregory moss permalink

      Hey – did you review it? I must’ve missed it. Yeah – it will definitely be in my top five for the year. And don’t get me started on Interstellar – 🙂


  3. Ficus permalink

    Excellent. Loved this film. I thought about it every day for a week after seeing it. What a ripper!?! So well executed, designed and beautifully filmed. As always, what set it apart from so many other recent genre offerings was the writing. Cleverly near future and suggestive, and not always obvious. My favourite part, though, was the idea that a machine that passes the Turing test would not just be intelligent, but would be SO intelligent that we would be defenseless in the face of its near-instantaneous machinations. Jettisoning the Asimovian ‘three rules of robotics’ made those cold calculations more contemporary, but no less chilling; very refreshing. And all layered in with some techno-erotica. First class.


    • gregory moss permalink

      Cool! You make some terrific observations about the three laws of robotics there, Mark. Fascinating stuff! 🙂


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