This year has had such a strong start, in terms of film releases. We've laughed, with Birdman, cried, with The Theory of Everything, gasped, at Whiplash, and, now, are being challenged by the illustrious Ex_Machina.
As a writer, Alex Garland has shown that he is more than capable of whipping up a successful idea. From great screenplays such as 28 Days Later to Sunshine to Dredd, even his own novel The Beach became an accomplished feature film, this man has proven himself to the world. However, Ex_Machina marks not only another writing accolade for Garland, but his debut into the realms of directing too and it's as if he's been doing this for years; resulting in a beautifully compelling masterpiece. You would not think this is his first directing gig.
As far as the story goes, Ex_Machina is bursting with ingeniuity. The film follows a young computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who works for the world's biggest search engine. He wins a prize and not the lottery but the chance to visit and spend some time with the CEO and head of the company, the reclusive Nathan (Oscar Isaac). However, upon arrival, Caleb is taken aback when learning of the project ahead; to test the scientist's latest invention, by the name of Ava - a truly breathtaking Artificial Intelligence.
What follows is Caleb using the Turing Test to challenge Ava and her human like abilities. The two converse and develop a rapport, build up chemistry, as, elsewhere, Nathan sits and observes the proceedings through a set of screens. Although, as Caleb's week long retreat proceeds, things start to take a turn as, slowly, a power struggle begins to develop between him and Nathan and, soon, the programmer starts to question just who it is exactly that he can trust as Garland cranks the heat up a notch as the drama slowly transcends into horror.
Helping drive this, we have our three protagonists. Each character is so intricate and nuaned, likeable yet terrifying, all with their own subtle qualities and the palpable chemistry between them is on fire, making the proceedings even more tense and entertaining. Gleeson is superb as Nathan. He represents the viewer - scared, confused and on-edge, caught up in all this madness. He brings a delightful charm and wit to this film, delivering a solid, endearing performance.
He's matched blow for blow by Isaac, who is just as fantastic as his counterpart. As soon as we're introduced to Nathan, we feel on-edge. This is a man that walks around in a scruffy vest and bottoms, drinking beers all day, beating a punchbag to death for the fun of it, yet you never doubt his authority or rep for a secon. He's an enigmatic character and Isaac brings a real sense of intimidation and intensity to the role. The back and forth between him and Gleeson is so fascinating to watch too.
Then, to complete the package we have Alicia Vikander giving a breathtaking performance as Ava. She's somewhat of a revelation, stunning to watch. She's seductive, sexy and dazzling yet you're weary to fall for here, there's a lust of danger about her. Watching Vikander, you simply forget that this is an actress playing a character. She inhibits the wiring and mesh that makes up Ava, giving her depth and humanity, really becoming this living, breathing work of machinery - bringing I, Robot's Sonny to mind. Her conversations and interactions with both Nathan and Caleb are riveting to watch, she really is mesmerising.
As far as the directing and the film itself goes, Garland is a natural. This is at the same level as the work of a director than has been honing their skills for years. Everything hits right and it hits perfectly. From the second this starts to the second it ends, he always ensure an anxious atmosphere, keeping you on-edge and making you feel isolated, gripping you like a vice. He has crafted this complex yet beautiful story that really gets the viewer engaged, enthralled and glued to the screen. It's visually stunning too. The effects are incredible; so real, so grounded yet so out of this world - to an extent that you just can't look away.
Breathtaking and beautiful, Ex_Machina is a gripping, thought-provoking and, at the same time, exhilarating piece of cinema that will shake you up and leave you reeling.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.