It’s not a new concept by any means, but films about artificial intelligence can still cut deep into the human psyche. Ex Machina is no different – following the narrative of Caleb, a computer programmer who wins a mysterious competition at his work, and is rewarded with a week long stay in the secluded and luxurious cabin of his genius boss, Nathan. It quickly emerges that Nathan has created an A.I., an artificially intelligent human, called Ava, and Caleb’s assignment for the week is to conduct the Turing Test.
Put very simply, the Turing Test is a method of human/robot discernment – if you can’t tell whether the subject is a human or a robot, then the subject has passed the test. What follows is a quick descent into an eerie, Pinteresque mind game. Caleb and Ava inevitably grow closer over the week, while Nathan’s motives become murkier and murkier, before a near slip into madness further twists everything out of focus.
Ex Machina marks Alex Garland’s directorial debut, being mostly known for his writing work, particularly on 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go. It’s the subtleties of that latter film that are mostly easily reflected in Machina: the slow moving, linear plot, the cold cinematography. Garland’s skilled writing also remains, the sharp exchanges between Nathan and Caleb, and the dense, emotionally heavy ones of Caleb and Ava, are endlessly enthralling, despite taking up the majority of screen time. Undercut by a thudding and ambient musical score, the work of Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, the on screen action becomes hypnotic. The music is omnipresent, even in quiet moments a low keyboard drone will be heard, heavily reminiscent of Trent Reznor’s work in The Social Network.
The final 15 minutes is punishing, Garland having steadily sharpened his directorial knife the entire way through, now sees to let it loose on his helpless characters. Garland doesn’t push for a new answer to the constantly raised questions of humanity – which he covers at length throughout Ex Machina – although he does damn the human characters within the film. Instead, he edges around grandstanding, opting for a calm, if slightly unsatisfying, ending. For the most part, an excellent debut.
Film Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The special features included of the Blu-Ray edition of Ex Machina boils down to five featurettes which talk about the making of the film, the creation of Ava and more. It’s a little less than 15 minutes of content, each clip clocking in at the two to three minute mark. Well made, nothing too in depth but some enjoyable insight into the impressive film. As seems to be the case with most recent releases, I have to wonder why there’s no commentary on the disc, and also this version doesn’t include the 40 minute documentary “Through The Looking Glass”, nor the 60 minute SXSW Q&A that was featured on the US release, which is disappointing. But it should be enough to keep fans of the film happy. And does the film look and sound amazing? Most definitely.
Special Features Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
This film review originally appeared as part of our SXSW coverage in March, written by Jules LeFevre. The special features review was written by Larry Heath, taken from the Australian Blu-Ray edition released in September 2015.
Ex Machina is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.