The 400-Word-Review: Ex Machina

By Sean Collier

April 28, 2015

To sexy A.I.!

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When artificial intelligence surpasses its current, somewhat limited status — best exhibited by Siri’s oft-befuddled politeness — and passes into the near-human, the initial results will not be fun, inspiring or engaging. They will be horrifying, with dreadful implications arising faster than you can say “Turing test.”

Such is clear the opinion of writer/director Alex Garland, anyway. In Ex Machina, his directorial debut, humanity’s next big thing is rendered in the sleek, curious body of Ava (Alicia Vikander), a hyper-intelligent robot with a gentle face and see-through torso. Even at her introduction, separated from humans by bulletproof glass, creeping dread sets in; for starters, why is she imprisoned? And (more vitally), how does she feel about it?

Ava is the creation of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a bro’d-up Steve Jobs who lives on a vast, automated mountain compound. Nathan calls mid-level programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to his kingdom under the pretense of a company-wide lottery, then reveals the young man’s true task: evaluate whether Ava has truly achieved sentience or remains a particularly convincing computer program.

Violence is constantly bubbling to the surface in Ex Machina; Nathan is even pummeling a punching bag when Caleb arrives. Alongside it, as is customary in cinema, is sexuality — first in the form of Nathan’s mute assistant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) and then in the immediate desire that forms between Ava and Caleb. As far as Ex Machina is literally concerned with artificial intelligence, it has two questions: will AIs be able to love, and will they be able to hate?


The answers to those questions emerge over the course of a story that melts from science fiction into mystery. Nathan’s true reasons for bringing Caleb into the fold are brought into question, and the rest of the reality around the two men follows suit: who is watching who? Why is the house secure as a military base? And is Nathan really in control — or does Ava run things?

The performances are quite good. Gleeson is particularly strong; with Ex Machina, he’s evolved from a potential star into a legitimate one; Ava, though, is the film’s center, and Vikander carries a pointed curiosity throughout all of Ex Machina’s twists. More than anything, though, I’m excited to see more from Garland; the 28 Days Later screenwriter, a storyteller in the truest sense, shines as brightly behind the camera as he does on the page.

My Rating: 9/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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