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Ex Machina

April 30, 2015

Ex Machina (***)

Alex Garland’s film debut Ex Machina is an engagingly told sci-fi tale, both well directed and written by its first time director. Garland isn’t exactly a newcomer to the cinematic world, having penned the scripts for such films as 28 Days Later, the 2012 version of Dredd and Sunshine but he seems like a natural behind the camera in his first effort. The atmosphere and staging of the film suits Garland’s original story well and is as assured a debut as I’ve seen in awhile.

Ex Machina is tricky to describe because it’s the type of film whose tricks can much too easily be spoiled by revealing too much. All you need to know are the sparsest of details concerning the film’s story, which are that Caleb (Dormhall Gleeson, the son of actor Brendan Gleeson), a computer programming wiz, has been summoned to the compound of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Issac, of Inside Llewyn Davis fame). Nathan is the founder of the company that Caleb works for, a thinly veiled version of Google referred to in the film as Bluebook.

Caleb has been asked to spend a week working for Nathan on a project that the mogul hopes will prove the reality of artificial intelligence.

Alicia Vikander is Ava in Ex Machina

It seems that Nathan has created a female robot and named her Ava (Alicia Vikander) and imbued her with human components and wants to see how Ava and Caleb will interact with each other. Everything in the experiment seems to be working out fine for a while until Caleb begins to realize everything isn’t as it seems and that there’s no surefire answer as to whom he can truly trust. How the film keeps the audience guessing is only one of its many charms. It’s best not to go any further as Garland’s storytelling tricks are one of the film’s chief assets.

Technically the film is a marvel and a triumph of production design. The look of Nathan’s compound echoes his mysterious nature while the robotic Ava has an interesting design that’s unlike much of what’s come before. It all works in tandem with the interesting and twisty story that Garland has to tell. It’s great to finally see an intelligent science fiction film that doesn’t pander to its intended audience and trusts that the viewer is intelligent and patient enough to hang with the proceedings from start to finish.

The film’s languid pacing may be off-putting for some audiences who are used to their science fiction being served in jazzed up form with endless—and, more often than not, mindless—action sequences. For those willing to exude some patience and give the film time to reveal itself, however, it proves to ultimately be a rewarding experience. 

Ex Machina is playing in Charlotte.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at



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