“Impulse. Response. Fluid. Imperfect. Patterned. Chaotic.”
Every year, there are a handful of festival favourite movies. Those slow burners that gradually make their way across the world, gaining rave reviews and increasing buzz with every step. These movies and that slow burn almost always suck me in. No massive bombardment of ads and promotional interviews with the stars. Just solid, impossible to ignore, constant praise. It must be about six months since I first heard a great review for Ex Machina. And ever since, every few weeks, it pops up again, on some movie nerd podcast I listen to, or written about on some pop culture website I frequent. And today, it finally made its way to me, so I can join in on the praise.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a competition at work that all of his friends and colleagues seem very jealous of. Working as some variety of coder at Blue Book, a Google-like search engine that is responsible for 94% of all internet searches, Caleb has won a week staying with Blue Book’s reclusive owner, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Once he arrives at Nathan’s secluded compound, he’s given a project. Nathan has created Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robotic woman. And now, he wants Caleb to administer a Turing Test and determine if Ava’s artificial intelligence is sophisticated enough to trick people into thinking she’s real.
Nathan is hungover when Caleb arrives, and proceeds to get black out drunk each night during Caleb’s visit. He’s the kind of eccentric that at first seems delightfully weird, before quickly becoming a little uncomfortably weird, and soon, just outright scary weird. And things with Ava are just as disturbing. It doesn’t take long before the humanity of this clearly inhuman robot is making Caleb second guess everything going on around him.
Ex Machina is one of the best examples of how to use special effects that I have seen in a long time. Ava has a human face, and a human shape, but the majority of her body is a web like, metallic skin, showing the servos, gears, wires and technology that make her move. And the effects that bring that to life are flawless. We can see through her ‘skin’, we can see through her internal mechanisms, and we can hear them werring and spinning as she moves. The look and sound is so subtle and so real. It’s also a lot more impressive than the explosions and cartoon characters that CGI is generally used for on the big screen.
And even more impressive than that is Oscar Isaac. This dude is one chameleon-ass actor. I had never heard of him in my life until the Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis. In that movie, he didn’t just play a folkie from the 60s, he was a folkie from the 60s. Everything about the movie, and especially Isaac, seemed like watching a movie and people from that time. Then, in A Most Violent Year, I never would have even recognized him as the same person if his name wasn’t in the opening credits. The hard, chiseled face of the heating oil salesman in 80s New York was a totally different man. Here, his freshly shaven head, unkempt beard and perpetually hungover demeanor make him seem like someone else entirely yet again.
The endless months of praise for Ex Machina may have worked against it just a tiny bit with me. I’m not sure if any movie could have lived up to all the praise I had heard, read and seen. While I did really like it, I also feel like I knew a little much going in to really feel its full impact. So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’ve read this far, I apologise. Because Ex Machina is one of those that only gets better with the less you know about it going in.