Ex Machina: NZFF Review
Finally making its way onto the screen after languishing unreleased (hooray for the New Zealand International Film Festival) is this brilliant tale of AI and mind games.
Domnhall Gleeson plays Caleb in Alex Garland's psychological thriller, a winner in a staff-run lottery to head to an island owned by company CEO Nathan (a suitably creepy Oscar Isaac) and check out some new tech.
When Caleb arrives on the island, he's introduced to Ava (a deliciously slinky and deliberately ambiguous, yet achingly vulnerable Alicia Vikander) and ordered to carry out a Turing Test on her to see if she can pass as a human.
However, as time passes, Caleb begins to question what he's doing on the island and who is playing who.
Devilishly smart, this three-hander psychological game has a claustrophobic feel that's as creepy as it is clever. As the time begins to pass, this sci-fi treat will have guessing from beginning to end; it's almost as if you are expecting something but don't have a clue where it will come from.
There's a sleekness and sophisticated sheen to the film, which really does achieve its day-after-tomorrow aesthetics with worrying ease; there's a very real feeling that this jump into AI could be in our very near future and be more subversive than we'd expect.
But while the film may be about concepts and ideas, its human personification and execution is nothing short of enthralling.
Vikander seals her rising star status with utter ease; her near emotionless face manages to convey more than you'd ever expect, a tangled set of wires may be part of her back head giving you a physical peek into what's within but you can never glimpse a full picture of what's being thought.
Equally, Gleeson relishes his time in the spotlight as the pieces of the puzzle float around his head - the swirling paranoia is gleefully orchestrated by Garland, but it's thanks to Caleb that we're given access to this quandary. Gleeson easily steps up and seizes the opportunity, turning it into something that begins as intriguing and ends with dread.
But it's Oscar Isaac who impresses most - his alpha male Nathan is a terrifying glimpse into where tech svengalis may already be heading and what lengths they're willing to go to get there. But not once does he ever leave you questioning the vision and humanity of the ethical dilemmas within thanks to a nuanced performance.
Elegant and intelligent, Ex Machina is thought-provoking cinema at its best.