REVIEW: Ex Machina

3 05 2015

Ex MachinaEx Machina,” from writer/director Alex Garland, marks yet another fascinating entry into the technophobic science-fiction genre – or, at the very least, the film has a skeptical stance towards the beneficence of technical advances.  Over the course of a week, Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb must determine whether a robot, Alicia Vikander’s Ava, can pass the Turing Test.  (For those who skipped “The Imitation Game,” that exam measures whether an artificially intelligent being can pass for a human.)

The deceptively simple set-up gets more complicated when factoring in Ava’s creator, Oscar Isaac’s Nathan.  An irascible genius in the mold of Mark Zuckerberg (at least how “The Social Network” portrayed him) crossed with the unsettling articulation of Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” Nathan has little regard for standard operation procedure or tradition decorum.  He handpicks Caleb to administer the test under unorthodox conditions as well as tight supervision.

Given all these factors, “Ex Machina” becomes highly unnerving once events start taking a turn for the unexpected.  Not since Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” five years ago has a film made me so distrusting of every character’s motives or uncertain of whether an event was actually happening.  Remarkably, Garland achieves this terror with little more than the basic building blocks of cinema: tight editing, controlled and sparse staging, crisp camerawork.

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