Ex Machina is a suspense driven sci-fi thriller from the writer of 28 Days Later, yet the best scene in this entire movie has absolutely no suspense whatsoever. It's simply Oscar Isaac's character putting on some tunes, telling Domhnall Gleeson's character that he's going to tear down the dance floor and then he goes and does exactly that. It's Oscar Isaac dancing like crazy and I currently have the scene on my phone over the span of multiple gifs. I love it so much.
But in all seriousness, Ex Machina follows the story of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson). He's a programer, working for a company called Blue Book. After winning a competition to spend the week with the company's founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), Caleb is flown out there, knowing very little of what's in store when he gets there. After arriving and introducing one another, Nathan explains to Caleb what he's about to embark on, and this endeavour is to perform a sort of turing test on an artificially intelligent woman Nathan has created. When Caleb is sent to meet Ava (Alicia Vikander), he's taken back by just how human she is, and how beautiful she is as well. Ex Machina is a back and forth game of trust, suspense and what it means to be human, and I'm so happy I finally got a chance to check it out.
Ex Machina is a film with a very minimal cast. For the majority of the runtime, we're shown just three actors; Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. I love Oscar Isaac. He's starting to turn into one of my favourite actors, and the other two cast members, who I'm noticing are appearing in more and more things lately, I've really taken a liking too, also. Each one of them shines in this movie, all of them having their individual moments to shine. Their performances are without fault, adding a whole new layer to the suspense. Who can we trust? Can we even trust anyone? The actors do a goddamn magnificent job at building this much needed tension.
Unsurprisingly, the most interesting character in this entire movie is Ava, who, up until meeting Caleb, has seen just one face before in her life. Nathan's. She's a grounded and intelligent A.I who truly is remarkable. She's believable, seductive and all the right kinds of off. Her character even has a slight sense of humour, and it's this humour that truly makes the film human, such as with the previously mentioned dance number, as well as a variety of other smaller moments.
It's deliberately slow in pace, but thanks to the screenplay by Alex Garland, it flows almost perfectly. There's never a dull or dragging moment, and every single plot point in this movie is placed so well. With a cast as small as this one, Garland has plenty of time to develop his characters. While we don't know an awful lot about their backstory or their motives at first, over the two hour runtime we know all we need to know about them, and the effect is priceless. Garland reels us into this story and these characters and once in, it's a place I never wanted to get out of.
Not only has he crafted a top-notch story, but he's also directed it to perfection. Everything is so polished and smooth and natural. It's a beautiful looking movie with some of the best cinematography of the year. You never feel as if there's a camera in the room. It never feels artificial, which I guess is a bit of an ironic word to use. The film just moves from scene to scene so smoothly and there isn't a single moment with poor direction.
When we do get to the film's third act, things have changed drastically, although this is for the better. We think we know who to trust and who not to trust, but we're not 100% sure. I know I certainly wasn't. There are a few minor moments of predictability, but the film's best kept secrets are safe. One of these secrets is the ending itself, which was shocking, haunting and left my entire audience in silence as we all stood up and left the cinema. When a film gets a reaction as priceless as that, you know you've made a film audiences will remember ten years from now.
To sum up, Ex Machina is a suspense driven sci-fi thriller that works exceptionally well due to the three lead performances and the absolutely breathtaking writing and directing from Alex Garland. This right here is quality cinema.