Ex Machina - Blu-ray Review

'Just as much an ultramodern twist on film noir as it is intelligent science fiction'.

The concept of artificial intelligence as the basis for successful cinema has a somewhat mixed history. The most successful examples are generally those films that don't try to be about AI itself, but that feature it as a prominent narrative element in order to tell a good story. Ex Machina largely goes down the latter path, with director Alex Garland creating a film that is just as much an ultramodern twist on film noir as it is intelligent science fiction.

Whilst this may be his directorial debut, Garland's is a name that has cropped up in the world of film for around a decade and a half. His work includes screenplays for Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later... and Sunshine after the director adapted Garland's novel The Beach in 2000, with more recent credits including the screenplay for cult hit Dredd. If Ex Machina is anything to go by, Garland has clearly picked up a great deal of film-making know-how in that time; his direction is consistently confident and stylish, impressively belying his lack of experience throughout. Perhaps unsurprisingly there are hints of Boyle within Garland's work, but other subtle influences include the likes of Jonze and even Kubrick, giving Ex Machina a polished and finely crafted feel throughout.

Subtlety is something Garland manages expertly in other areas. There are hints here and there that Ex Machina is set in the not-too-distant future, but it could also quite easily take place in a marginally alternate version of the present day. The film is also a prime example of using CGI as a tool rather than overusing it as an exhibition piece, with the technologically created elements of the film blending effortlessly with the live action. This deftness by Garland in handling his film's intricacies and embellishments makes Ex Machina that much easier to become absorbed by, which in turn makes the unfolding events within it that much more affecting.

There is intelligence shot through Garland's script, but never to the point of alienating or boring the audience. Both Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) and Nathan (Oscar Isaac) are clearly learned men, and it's important the audience know and believe that, but what's more important about them is their human flaws and interaction. Whilst both actors impress, it is the performance from Isaac that will stay with you - a mesmerising conundrum of a turn that at times channels the early roles of Pacino. Pivotal to the film's success is the AI presence herself, Ava, brought to life by rising star Alicia Vikander. The young actress strikes the balance between human and machine consistently well, whilst also crafting in Ava an intriguing "femme fatale futuriste".

Garland's tale takes in a number of pleasing twists and turns, growing darker as the relationship between the central trio becomes ever more intertwined, whilst also being able to take in a few well-placed moments of genuine comedy. The climax perhaps relies more on chance occurrences than it should, but nonetheless provides a satisfying conclusion to the narrative. Ultimately, as both a directorial debut for Garland and an entry into contemporary sci-fi, Ex Machina stands tall as one of the most impressive of recent years.




Ex Machina is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 1st June 2015, and is available now on digital download.



By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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