Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later, Sunshine and adapter of Never Let Me Go and Karl Urban’s Dredd) makes his début behind the camera, directing his own script.
In terms of tone, style, pace and with its fears of the march of technology, Ex Machina feels very much like a feature length episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series and Domnhall Gleeson, star of an not dissimilar Black Mirror episode stars as Caleb, a computer programmer who wins a staff-lottery to spend a week at the high-tech home of his reclusive boss Nathan (Isaac).
Caleb discovers that his boss has been building a full AI, Ava (Vikander) and wants Caleb to test it; to see if at any point during conversation he forgets that he is talking to a machine and treats her as human. But not everything is as it seems. What has Nathan had to do to get to this stage and what are his true motivations? Was the lottery legitimate? Does Ava have her own agenda?
Garland handles the transition from writer to director with seeming ease – Ex Machina is stylish and thoughtful and while fairly predictable, it’s a story so well told and performed it’s hard to care. Every shot is well framed and captured and Garland keeps a tight hand on the deliberate pacing, allowing enough time for his tale to grown without letting it outstay its welcome. He allows for moments of levity too (a scene with Nathan dancing with his assistant (Mizuno) is an early contender for favourite scene of the year.)
Gleeson convinces as an intelligent everyman with a tough streak and Isaac nails his weary, egotistical tech-prodigy; while Vikander stands-out, managing to make every action, every twitch and mannerism seem cold-mechanical and yet warming and natural.
The ending might not satisfy all tastes, but it certainly is a strong gut-punch and a memorable end to an assured directing début.
The Verdict: Ex Machina may lack some of the rewatchability of some of Garland’s other works; but it’s a well made piece of tech-paranoia that asks questions about the application of technology and just what information our smart-phones and search engines are recording. Garland gets three strong performances out of his leads and tells his story with confidence and poise.