Ex Machina (2014): 9 out of 10: A programmer wins a contest to spend the week at his eccentric CEO’s retreat. It turns out that the CEO is using him to test if his new AI creation can pass the Turing test. A creation in the shape of a beautiful young woman.
The Good: I love tight movies with many layers. Here is a script that is finely crafted like a Swiss watch. A puzzle box with hidden meanings in the names, the artwork on the walls and even the labels on the various liquor bottles scattered throughout. Nothing is as it seems and yet everything is right there if you are able to look. The movie never cheats. It doesn’t have to. It shows its cards right up front but like the best magic tricks still uses misdirection to have you look where it wants you to.
The set-up is minimalistic with four characters and a few sets. The acting is top notch while the sets are out of a Grand Designs house where the owner is going for a bunker feel. (Lots of stamped concrete no windows). Imagine if David Mamet or Charlie Kaufman had written and directed Saturn 3 and you have this film.
The Bad: There is an actual movement to ban sex robots. (If you mention to them that vibrators are basically sex robots, you will get vehement that’s different and at worse a screech straight from Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Ex Machina threads that uncanny valley needle where you are meant to care what happens to a clearly artificial construct. It succeeds mostly by being the tightly written screed praised above. (Unlike say Steven Spielberg’s A.I. which bluntly fails miserably about getting us to care about a homicidal toaster played by Haley Joel Osment). There is a scene where it is spoken that the robot’s software will be updated that I suppose is to evoke an emotional response from the viewer. As somebody who’s Windows 10 seems to update at the most random of times, I felt some horror but perhaps not the one the filmmakers were going for.
The Ugly: They filmed the movie in the beautiful Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway. It must horrify the poor owners of the hotel as the rest of the film is filmed in minimalist concrete bunkers that serve as the rooms underneath the resort.
In Conclusion: A tightly wound, well-written thriller that makes one think and excites the senses. Starts off slow but give it time. It draws you in and the last act is a doozy.