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Ex Machina
Genre Sci-Fi
 
Review:

Ex Machina is a sci-fi thriller from Dredd, Sunshine and 28 Days Later... screenwriter Alex Garland, whose directorial debut is eerie, beautiful, sparse and thought-provoking. It's a wonderful piece of science fiction, delving into the arena of artificial intelligence with unsettling, provocative drama and keeping an air of suspense with mysterious motives and a slow-burning fuse.

There's little spoon-feeding in this story about a programmer, who wins the chance to participate in a groundbreaking AI experiment and spend a week with a programming genius and multi-millionaire.

Domhnall Gleeson, best known for About Time and Harry Potter, is quickly becoming a regular in Hollywood with a number of strong performances. While Anton Yelchin may have been a better choice, Gleeson keeps a lid on things with a slightly vacant yet sturdy turn as Caleb.

Oscar Isaac is quite ominous as the dark and stormy Nathan, whose seemingly limitless power and intelligence make him difficult-to-read and threatening. Isaac buttons down the drama and keeps things unpredictable and uneasy, adding to the suspense with a ringmaster role. Alicia Vikander is beautifully controlled and just out-of-reach as Ava, selling her character's CGI, wielding power and remaining elusive like Scarlett Johansson's subdued performance in Under the Skin.

This isn't an effects-driven film. Instead its elegant and feels more in line with the work of Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Winding Refn and Jonathan Glazer. To be more specific, Ex Machina channels aspects from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Winding Refn's Only God Forgives and Glazer's Under the Skin.

The eerie, cold and sparse atmosphere and expansive science lab corridors echo 2001: A Space Odyssey as the characters interact with non-human entities, cocooned, not by space, but an uninhabited island that could have been used for Jurassic World.

While not as sleazy or violent, the sleek cinematography, colour palette and Kyoko character are reminiscent of Only God Forgives. By contrasting natural paradise and cutting edge technology, the visuals are striking and provide the perfect setting for a debate about "what constitutes a self-aware sentient being?" to settle in.

Ex Machina and Under the Skin both fall into the sci-fi genre with one about an AI life form and the other an alien. While they've got different approaches, there are some parallels. Glazer is concerned with mood, concocting the surreal without losing its organic sense of reality. Garland captures a similar feeling with some of his scenes, evoking an alien paradigm.

This is a slow-moving, thinking man's sci-fi thriller. It's sleek, elegant and beautifully filmed with some strong performances from up-and-coming stars. The actors are still establishing themselves as name stars, which probably explains why Ex Machina didn't have a cinema release in South Africa, but the quality of the ingredients go a long way and will certainly be a calling card for everyone that was involved with this curious, entertaining and suspenseful film.

The bottom line: Sleek

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