There’s something immensely unsettling about Ex Machina that doesn’t reveal itself nor appear to go away. It just lingers in the air, blowing on the back of your neck and giving you goose bumps.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a computer programmer working for the world’s most popular search engine Bluebook, wins a company competition to join the CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac) at his mansion in the wilderness and get a closer look at his research. But the competition was a ruse to test Nathan’s latest project, a humanoid robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). It’s Caleb’s job to interact with Ava and subject her to the Turing test of artificial intelligence, and in the process determine whether she can pass as human.
But in the spirit of mysterious, isolated research facilities, strange things start to happen: power outages, weird encounters, building lockdowns… Caleb begins to question if he can trust his boss, or if he should listen to Ava’s pleas for escape.
As far as genre is concerned, Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a fondue pot. It’s an art film and a sci-fi, and it puts the ‘suspense’ in ‘suspense thriller’. It also thrills, but not in the guns-blazing, whodunit sense. It feels almost like it should have its own genre, or create a new one at least. There’s no mystery unsolved by the end of it, but it still leaves you obsessing over what the hell just happened.
A lot of the entertainment value comes from the cast is. It’s almost impossible to think about anyone else whenever Isaac is on screen. Likewise, Vikander is an uncrackable brain-teaser with layers hidden under more layers, and Gleeson is perfect as the everyman, albeit with something about him that is slightly off but untraceable.
The characters themselves are also interesting. It’s so easy to like and root for Caleb initially, but once Ava’s true motives are revealed, he becomes just another obstacle in her way.
All elements of Garland’s film come together to create something strange but spectacular that stays with you long after it ends.