Sci Fi has become simultaneous with extravagance and CGI, sprawling SFX departments and money money money. Yet sometimes the most effective and thought provoking dystopias are the simplest.
In the near future, coding expert Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a company competition to meet Nathan (Oscar Isaac) the reclusive yet infamous company head at his hideaway, (would you like a hint of Mark Zuckerberg with your story sir?). This bearded genius is an eccentric with alcoholic tendencies (“Must have been some party” “what party?”) who promptly forces our wide-eyed ingenue to sign on the dotted line ensuring absolute secrecy. Already his insistence at a lawyer free contract is giving you a creeping sensation that all is not well in the technological paradise.
Once his life is signed away all is revealed – the possibly evil mastermind has, with the aid of many beers presumably, created artificial life, and wants our lucky golden ticket holder to conduct a turing test to deduce whether his artificial offspring ticks all necessary corporeal boxes.
So the tests begin. Caleb meets Ava the AI (the cyborged Alicia Vikander) and begins his series of investigative interviews under the ever watchful eyes of bad daddy Nathan. But what her father can’t see is that Ava has begun to explore her more human traits.
The slightly androgynous Isaac, known to most as Bill Weasley, is a wonderfully awkward blank slate for secretive Nathan to manipulate, who is immensely readable just as the latter is closed. Ava veers towards wet-dream robotics in places, but destroys budding fantasies utterly by the time the credits role – the test is certainly on, but the subject of the examination is uncertain.
Some may feel Ex Machina lacks the explosive grandeur of Sci Fi blockbusters such as Gravity, but sometimes the best things truly do come in small packages; what it lacks in budget it more than makes up for in artistry and narrative. Through the labyrinthine claustrophobia of Nathan’s bunker slithers a story theatre-like in its simplicity, the trio of performers ramp up the levels of discomfort and dread as the tale unwinds, revelation by revelation, until the true meaning of the test is revealed and the consequences of the experiment become irreversible.
If pushed I would have liked more background to the inner workings of Eva, but perhaps as mere humans we are not supposed to twig the mechanical mind. As close to perfect a Sci Fi film as humanly possible. Philip K Dick is smirking from the stars.
Written by Hannah Cooper (MA Journalism student of Birkbeck College)