“Ex Machina” is a 21st Century take on the classic “Frankenstein” monster tale. Instead of the creature being a lumbering giant, it’s a lithe young woman. And, where Dr. Frankenstein and Igor might discuss why there are so many townspeople at the game with torches and pitchforks, the new film has two computer experts discussing the definition of life.
Today’s tech-crazed world is the perfect place to spawn a story of the creation of life through the manipulation of bytes and pieces. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a genius, creates artificial life in the form of an attractive young female. He brings in one of his employees, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to put his latest model, Ava (Alicia Vikander), through the Turing test. This suggests pure artificial intelligence has not been achieved unless the emotional reactions are so human-like, it’s impossible to tell if they are real or robotic.
Director/writer Alex Garland (“Dredd”) has fashioned a three-person play that takes place in an isolated research facility/home for Nathan. Caleb has seven days to quiz Ava enough to determine if she’s passed the test.
If you are looking for a fantasy film with the kind of action of the “Terminator” series or the sweeping examination of humanity in Steven Spielberg’s “AI Artificial Intelligence,” this is not the movie for you.
Intelligent conversations are what drive this film and there has not been as intriguing a series of chats between man and machine since HAL and Dave bantered back in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” They are similar in that they both convey strong intellectual interplay while also being heavy in emotions.
Credit Vikander, the Swedish actress who gives Ava both a mechanical and human feel. Her emotional range is narrowed because of the robotic parts of the role, but she’s able to sell everything from lust to wonder with a tilt of the head or slight smile. She shows just enough emotion to create confusion as to whether she’s the next great step in technology evolution or the creation that will turn it all into computerized chaos.
Special effects to make her look robotic are spectacular. Even the exposed circuitry of her arms, legs and torso are so delicately fashioned that there is no doubt she’s not human, but it’s never threatening.
“Ex Machina” will disappoint those looking for massive battles or dramatic incidents. Even the movie’s pivotal action scene is played out like a choreographed dance. It’s beautiful to watch on a very cerebral level.
Gleeson does a superb job of playing a man torn between his heart and his head. And, Isaac plays just close enough to the line to question whether he’s a modern day mad scientist.
Garland adds to the tension by shooting the movie at staggering locations in Norway using rolling rivers and massive glaciers as backdrops. The ice becomes a metaphor for how science can both move quickly and creep along at a painfully slow rate.
‘Ex Machina” is one of the smartest horror movies to come along in years. It doesn’t count on big scares and excessive violence to make its points but shows that intellect left unchecked can be equally as frightening.