Harry Winser

Review: Ex_Machina

Anyone who's been paying attention to the news in the last few months, will notice there's been an unusual amount of chatter about what will happen if/when computers gain sentience (or A.I). The general gist of this news has been that the Human race is doomed, and we should just throw in the towel to our new Robotic overlords now.

However, let's not despair just yet, and perhaps indulge in a not too distant feature where A.I is on the cusps of being a reality. Enter Ex_Machina. True, this isn't the first film to tackle A.I. and the human complications associated with it (See, coincidently, the film called A.I.). So how does it compare?

Story

It starts with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) winning a competition which takes him to go visit the technological super star Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who also happens to be Caleb's boss, for a week.

Caleb is whisked away to Nathans secluded house in the forest. Before long we learn that this isn't a house or a simple visit to see the boss for a week. It's in fact a super-secret research facility, with one hell of a project that Nathans been working on; Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Ava is an A.I, and Caleb's been brought in to test her.

All sounds pretty simple and harmless, but as the plot unfolds everything starts getting more sinister.

I'm going to quickly talk about the Tech discussed in this film. As a software developer at heart, it was nice to see that not all of this was too farfetched. Nathan is the CEO of a large Internet Search company (*Cough*), and to get Ava to work, he had to tap into everyone's phone across the worlds, and access all the cameras and microphones, and use what everyone was searching to form the base of the A.I. All of this is very close to what we have today, and what could be achieved in a not too distant future. Scary stuff!

It was also very nice to see some real computer code on screen. Something a lot of directors ignore and don't bother with. Really added to the realism of the whole film.

All of the Actors throughout the film (there aren't many) play their part exceptionally well. Caleb lacks any real personality, but it makes it much easier for the view to put themselves in his spot. As a result when he puts questions to Ava, it's exactly what the average person would ask. Gleeson does an excellent job, and it's not a performance I can fault.

The same goes to Isaac. He portrays Nathan to be exactly what you'd expect an eccentric genius to be. However it's Vikander that truly sells the A.I performance. She moves in a way that looks like something attempting to move normally. It's very much what you'd expect for a robot to move like. And no, I'm not talking 80's dancing. Vikander facial expressions are also very clever; a mixture of human and what a robot might interpret as human without being weird, and she totally nails it. Her whole performance if brilliant, and sells the concept and the movie.

Sound / Special Effects

Let's talk CGI. Many of you will have seen the trailer (if not I've added above). Throughout the film, Ava is shown to have her midsection exposed, and displaying Moving parts. Only her face, hands, and feet are actually covered in synthetic skin. The CGI used here I feel is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes it works, and other times it looks cheap and unnecessary. We know she's a robot. We get it. At times, it looks like CGI, which takes you out of the immersion the writing and acting spend so much time building. Very minor gripe though.

However, the aesthetic of the film is spot on. Everything feels very real. Nathans forest house is subtly futuristic. It's still very much rooted in reality and functionality. The sound is something I should also comment on. Brilliant electro tracks back most of the film (think Tron), which totally add to some of the really tense moments. The sound design can be a little on the nose at times (Nathan's house has classical playing in the background all the time), but for the most part it all adds to the isolation of where house is, and the eerie tone of the film.

Wrap Up

It's rare that I'm still thinking about all the clever moments and choices well after the credits have rolled. But 24 hours later, I'm still coming up with new theories and new thoughts about why certain things happened, and what it all means.

This is Alex Garland's director debut, and he does a stunning job. He's been writing for a while (Beach, 28 days later) and his story weaving skill certainly shines here. I'm very much look forward to his next. This film is easily on the list of best of the year (It's only January?!), and will be one I'll certainly be watching again. It's on my list of favourite films of all time, and it's certainly something anyone with even a mild interest in technology should see.