Its not everyday that a small scale science fiction film is able to compete with and be compared to the genres epic’s. ‘Ex Machina’ is one such film. Relatively unknown – in the grand scale of filmic releases – the film is captivating to watch, carries an emotional core and linger long in the memory after the films powerful close. Featuring three of the industries upcoming talent, and pioneered by a master storyteller- Alex Garland also wrote the films screenplay – ‘Ex Machina’ is a character driven masterpiece that holds a deeper meaning , with its focus on what it means to be human.
Chosen as the of a company competition, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is whisked away from his office desk, and brought to the luxury residence of company director Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Privileged as the participant selected for an experiment hosted by the company director, Caleb is instructed to interact with a fully developed humanoid artificial intelligence. Given the task to determine whether his latest creation has developed true human characteristics, Caleb holds conversations daily with the female robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander). During these conversations, Caleb begins to develop emotional attachment Ava. Becoming more personal in what is discussed, Caleb begins to doubt the motives of his boss, resulting in a power-play between the three individuals.
‘Ex Machina’ holds a simple yet highly effective story arc. Centring on only the three principle cast, the films narrative progresses at a steady pace, which allows for the film to hold enough time to fully develop the characters into the story plot. The film utilises the chemistry between the three characters to develop tension during moments of unease. This tension really draws in human attachment, bringing a deep meaning to the films subplot. Written by Garland, the plot showcases his scientific vision – but also carries a very realistic drama that draws out human emotion from what occurs on screen.
Domhnall Gleeson is a captivating actor to watch, progressing with each role his talent as an actor develops. Distinguishing himself within the filmic choices he partakes, the young actor is currently moving up the Hollywood Hierarchy. Unwilling to portray mundane roles, the 31 year old has possibly performed his most personal character with Caleb. Delivering the core of the film in his performance, Gleeson carries the narrative through in a brilliant manner. Oscar Isaac is another actor that is rising through the Hollywood hierarchy. This film only adds to that claim. Deceitful and convoluted, his Nathan is as close to the antagonist of the production as it carries. Commercially driven, the sole aim of his character is the development and progression of his company, enhances his characters stature within the world of technology. Nathan’s aim poses moral dilemma’s and in some places detest on what he undertakes to achieve his goal. Through having his inclusion in the film, therefore Oscar Isaac is able to portray him in such a way that the audience is given someone to root against.
Alicia Vikander is brilliant as Ava, being the stand out cast member of the the film. Emotional and exciting to watch, her Ava explores the idea that the film delves to explore – primarily what is it that makes us human. A post humanistic thought, this idea is really the driving force behind the narrative of the film, and Ava presents the theme brilliantly to the audience within her performance. With the aid of outstanding visual effects, the young Swedish actress is enchanting as the beautiful robot – with the design lingering longer in the mind than any other element of the film. Sheer beauty and brilliance in one filmic role, Ava is an evolutionary jump from movie robots of the past.
‘Ex Machina’ has some excellent sound work, with perfectly crafted sound edits and a composed score that adds layers to the films plot. Designed around what occurs on screen, the sound and music used improves the movie throughout. The management and tight control of the interior shot decisions really complements the single location choice that the story is presented within. This decision and control really places further emphasis on the characters over the location. Even though they is only one primary location used, the choice of shots used still brings a cinematographic beauty to what occurs on screen. This adds a further layer to the composition of the films narrative progression.
The design of Ava within the film is completed to an extremely high standard – especially when considered the meagre budget that the film production holds. Heightened with sexuality, Her Ava is deceitful but kind – presented as a morally ambiguous human character in a robot skeleton. With her immaculately designed exterior, Ava is completely believable and seems not to far away in technological advancement to what modern days living has created. Through designing his central character to such a high standard, Alex Garland is able to present this small science fiction film as a production that feels very much like the space operas and science epics that hold viewer attention with their inclusion of distant lands, epic battles and strange creatures.
‘Ex Machina’ is a brilliant film from a well established storyteller, a simple story that carries a much deeper meaning. Asking questions from the audience member, this film is an intimate take on the relationships of three contrasting characters, which is allowed to develop at a perfect pace. The ending of the film is rather surprising, yet is a filmmaking decision that really compliments the film. Tension is a allowed to be organically grown from the context of individual scenes, but is never overused. Through this control, ‘Ex Machina’ emulates the old style thrillers of the past. A film that mirrors the genres greatest, ‘Ex Machina’ is an outstanding debut production that cements itself as simply outstanding.
Plot – 4
Acting – 5
Direction – 4
Special Effects – 5
Retrospect – 4
Overall – A