(US/UK - 2015)
Written and directed by Alex Garland. Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Corey Johnson. (R, 107 mins)
It's easy to make surface comparisons to Caradog James' 2014 sci-fi film THE MACHINE, but Alex Garland's EX MACHINA, while sharing some similar ideas and, unfortunately, a focus on female android protagonists named Ava, goes in an otherwise completely different direction. A twisty, often philosophical mindbender, EX MACHINA marks the directing debut of novelist Garland, who's been a frequent Danny Boyle collaborator (he scripted 28 DAYS LATER and SUNSHINE, and his novel The Beach was adapted into a 2000 Boyle film by TRAINSPOTTING screenwriter John Hodge), and also wrote Pete Travis' instant cult classic DREDD (2012). Garland lays on the Kubrick worship a little thick, especially in the back end of the film, but he does it right, and the film's cold, clinical look, its long hallways, its recurring use of mirrors, and its limited number of protagonists in an isolated, claustrophobic location make it particularly indebted to THE SHINING. In conjunction with a throbbing electronic score co-written by Portishead's Geoff Barrow and the cinematography of Rob Hardy, EX MACHINA is one of those hypnotic films whose visual intoxication works on you quickly, but unlike many such instances, it's got the story to back up the style.
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR. Shot at the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Valldalen, Norway, with the long hallway shots done at Pinewood Studios in London, EX MACHINA is a remarkable film, intelligently written, visually stunning, and with top-notch android CGI on Vikander, proving that CGI can look good, and doing so on just a $16 million budget. It belongs on that short list of almost trance-inducing modern sci-fi cult classics like BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, UNDER THE SKIN, and the little-seen THE MACHINE, which also deals with AI and a female android named Ava but in an entirely different, post-apocalyptic setting and, it should be noted, lacking an amazing Isaac-Mizuno dance scene.