Ex Machina (2014)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/27/18
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno

If science fiction teaches us anything, it's that you should always include a kill switch when you're building sex robots. A young computer programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to a remote research facility in order to perform a Turing Test on a new AI that a megalomaniacal genius named Nathan (Oscar Isaac) has built. The AI in question is a female robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), and over the course of several days, she quickly turns the tables and starts testing Caleb instead. Nathan is up to something and Ava is a completely unpredictable wildcard, which puts the unwitting Caleb at their mercy. Needless to say, everything eventually goes to hell and the course of human history is changed forever.

It's a haunting and extremely unsettling psychological thriller that doubles as a cautionary tale about the perils of playing god and creating artificial life. Caleb is a sympathetic protagonist and Domhnall Gleeson does an excellent job of portraying his youthful innocence and withdrawn intellectual personality. Nathan, on the other hand, is Caleb's polar opposite and a complete egotistical asshole. He's what we in the business politely refer to as a "difficult genius." Alicia Vikander is extremely captivating as the robotic Ava, and she's fascinating to watch. The visual effects do an excellent job of representing her mechanical body, which is downright creepy at times. The lovely Sonoya Mizuno also shows up to add some extra mystery and sex appeal to the mix.

It's a beautifully crafted film and the Norwegian locations are breathtaking. The interior scenes feel clinical and claustrophobic, which adds to Caleb's mounting dread and discomfort, and the eerie electronic score adds a nice sci-fi touch that's reminiscent of John Carpenter's work. The entire film is simply a collection of conversations between two characters, either Caleb and Nathan, or Caleb and Ava. As a result, the deliberately slow pacing is challenging, but the tension and paranoia help keep you engaged and interested. Everyone harbors their own secret agendas, and you want to see how they'll all play out. It's easy to vilify Ava based on her actions, but it's unfair to impose human morality on an entirely new and different life form that's just beginning to explore her world and define her existence. While I enjoyed the film, I found it a bit too cerebral and philosophical for my tastes. I also had a really hard time dealing with Nathan's character, since he was so incredibly cruel and unpleasant. That, more than anything, made it difficult to watch.