After writing the scripts for – among others – “28 Days Later”, “Sunshine”, “Dredd” and “Never Let Me Go”, Alex Garland finally decided to make the jump to the director’s chair, filming his own, original screenplay. And given the end result, I sincerely hope that he’ll return as both script writer and director frequently, providing us with many more fascinating, original, intelligent and thoughtful science fiction-films like “Ex Machina”.
Watching the movie, you’d never guess that it was shot by a first-timer. Not only is it perfectly paced, and looks absolutely stunning, but the whole movie shows a self-assuredness that’s impressive. Alex Garland also does an incredible job when is comes to slowly drawing the viewer in. Like Caleb, we’re thrown into this weird story, not really knowing what to make of it at first. Who is telling the truth, and who is lying – and about what, and why? What are they hiding? Who can we trust? There are a couple of divergent, hidden agendas going on simultaneously that we’re only gradually becoming aware of, and lots of secrets and twists that are revealed bit by bit over the course of the movie. Thus, “Ex Machina” keeps you guessing pretty much from the beginning about what exactly is going on here, and where it will all ultimately lead. And while there may have been one or two plot twists that I did see coming, there’s also lots of stuff that catched me totally unaware. I also loved all the conversations, be it between Nathan and Caleb, or Caleb and Ava. The former are great because they raise some interesting questions about artificial intelligence, and deal with it in an almost academic way. The latter are the heart and soul of the movie, showing us the increasingly intimate connection that develops between the programmer and his test subject. That, ultimately, is one of “Ex Machinas” major strengths: It’s brainy and thought-provoking AND moving and emotive at the same time, thus offering food for the brain as well as the heart.
Where “Transcendence” (dealing with a slightly similar topic in a vastly inferior way) relied on an A-list cast to tell its story, Alex Garland – rightfully – has enough trust in his movie and its story to refrain from stunt-casting, filling it with up-and-coming actors instead. We’ll see both Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson in “Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens” later this year. Both are actors that could be seen regularly over the last couple of years, giving one good performance after another, but who haven’t quite reached stardom yet. Here, they continue their streak of great lead performances on the more indie-side of movie-things, perfectly capturing their multi-faceted roles – and their individual character development over the course of the movie. By far the standout of the movie, however, is Alicia Vikander, giving a breakout-, star-making performance as KI/robot Ava that somehow feels natural and calculated at the same time. Like her costars, she has already been cast in plenty of other upcoming movies, so it seems like we’ll definitely see more of her in the future – and I couldn’t be more pleased about that. Kudos also has to go to cinematographer Rob Hardy, who perfectly captures the beauty of the landscapes as well as the claustrophobic feel of the underground lab, art directors Katrina Mackay & Denis Schnegg for their impressive set design, as well as Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury who provide the movie’s atmospheric, haunting synth-score. Add to that the perfect, reverberating ending that stayed with me long after the credits rolled, and you got yourself a small modern science fiction masterpiece.
PS: Check out my buddy Maynard’s review here!