Lucien’s Review: Ex Machina

Ex MachinaMan, where has this kind of movie been?!  It’s been so long since I saw a science fiction movie like this that I almost forgot that it exists.  A movie that has ethical questions, dark subtext and looks at the human condition.  Movies like this have devolved into action films.  This kind of movie hasn’t been around since Blade Runner, and I am SO glad that it has come back!  This movie was totally engrossing, from beginning to end, telling a very dark story about a young man who gets in over his head and falls into a situation that he can’t control, with forces at work that are both what he can see, and what he feels, all mixing up in a story that is so much darker than it first appears.

The films tells the story of a man named Caleb, who works for the film universe’s equivalent of Google, called Blue Book.  He’s a programmer for the company, and gets invited by the programmer to go work on a secret project that has the potential to be very big.  Right off the bat, it’s a strange thing.  Everything about it is off-putting.  However, when Caleb realizes the project he’s involved with, his entire world changes.  He is running tests on the first ever artificial intelligence, called Ava.  As the film moves forward, however, a much darker purpose begins to hint itself, along with the man who is running the show.  Caleb begins to understand the gravity of what’s happening, and now it’s on to find out the truth, and to find a way out without becoming a victim as well.

The first thing to talk about with this movie is the effects.  This is a very small film.  The set is small, and the whole plot takes place in a very small area.  But there is a special effect that looks so freaking good, and I want to really talk about it here – Ava.  Ava looks amazing.  The blend of a real person and digital effects is almost seamless.  There are scenes where you see parts of Ava’s growth as a person, and it becomes a surreal experience of looking at an effect and real stuff all at once.  No idea how it was done, but I can’t praise it enough.  This film looks amazing.  The whole cinematography is well done.  The shots all have this surreal feeling.  As does the whole movie.

Almost everything in this film is shot in a windowless area that allows for some very claustrophobic feeling to set in.  This works to put the audience on edge, and to show the perspective of the main character, who feels very trapped, and becomes more and more so as the film goes on.  There are some truly captivating shots that really work to show off characters moods.  The way they show Caleb’s emotions with just a specific angle for a couple seconds is great.  Just a few frames and you realize how he feels.  That is a great thing to do.  I wish more movies did it.  Blade Runner was able to show mood by having characters say several things at once.  That was also a good trick.  Each time someone talked, they were often saying several things at once.  A trick that Cowboy Bebop would employ as well.  This movie is very quiet.  While this film is almost-entirely dialogue, it is also very quiet.  Shots to capture mood based on facial expression happen, which makes the emotional moments better, and the tense moments even moreso.

Which is another thing I want to praise – this movie does tension SO well.  One of my favorite scenes in Goodfellas is when you have silence used to build tension at the restaurant when Joe Pesci’s character wants to know what makes him so funny, and this movie has some great moments of silence when you want to show that Caleb is having to think fast to diffuse a situation.  The man hosting this meeting is another great performance.  You can’t tell if this guy is eccentric, crazy, corrupt, or maybe evil.  It’s very clear that he has an objective early on, but the true depths of what he wants to do will keep you guessing right up until the very end.  This film is great at that.

The soundtrack is very sparse in this movie.  A lot of low melodies that work to accentuate a scene.  I love the single-note tension-building bits too.  But when the music shows itself off most is during the emotional parts.

But the real thing that stole the show is the performances.  Every role in this movie is good.  All of them.  Caleb is my favorite, but Ava is not far behind.  Most people would probably pick Ava, and I don’t begrudge them that.  But for me, it’s watching the journey as Caleb begins to understand the test that he’s in, and the true depths of what he’s involved with that makes him such a good character.  Though Nathan is an interesting character too.  He’s riding the edge of so many things, and you never know what to think about him.  He’s a genius.  He’s manipulative.  He’s got some purpose, but you don’t know what it is.  There’s something about him that puts you on edge, but you don’t know what it is.  But, Ava is, as I said, my second-favorite.  She’s learning about her humanity, and unlike so many movies where this has been done, it feels real.  Mostly because this isn’t like she is just activated and she has humanity.  There are parts of her that she is learning about, as she keeps talking to Caleb.  The detachment of their conversations is what makes it work.  She can’t touch him.  She can’t be around him.  All they can do is talk.  Through conversation, and what she chooses to do and talk about, there is so much to learn about her.

I’m not about to pretend that this is a new concept.  It’s not.  But this film took something that is old as science fiction and gave it new life.  This concept was polished and given to the masses, and I think that this is one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in a LONG time.  Where has this kind of movie gone?  It has to be all bombastic and shit now.  But this movie proved otherwise.  If you haven’t seen it, or are on the fence, do so.  I guarantee, you won’t regret it.

Final Verdict
9 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

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