Sometimes it's impossible not to gush. This is one of those films, at one of those times, where it is everything needed and required to blow you away without devastating expectations. Ex Machina does the kind of thing I'd forgotten was possible, which was to be a small, brilliant film that doesn't need to do anything more than be the best it can.
Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine) takes his first crack at directing in this single location thriller. When a low-level programmer is selected by a Jobs-ian tech guru to spend a week testing his secret new project: an artificial intelligence with human features, the Turing test quickly becomes a turn that pits all the main players against each other in a game to see who will emerge intellectually superior. The artificial girl begins to break the rules of the experiment, and expresses sexual desires that either exist to distract her tester, confuse her creator, or express an evolution of genuine conscious thought. It's a terse adventure on a limited yet beautiful scale.
The storytelling makes excellent use of pacing, right from an introduction scene that takes less than five minutes to get out two main characters in the same space and establish the rules of the film's world. The underground laboratory/bunker is minimal and beautiful, welcoming and profane all at once. The three main cast members are all perfectly cast, especially a despondent, drunk Oscar Isaac with a chip on his shoulder against the world and himself. Oh, and that soundtrack… to die for.
What Ex Machina does best is create a brilliantly convoluted mystery full of red-herrings, and follows through by never depending on a twist. This is a well-executed story that never zigs for the sake of a zag, but rather builds upon itself to deliver shocks without ever breaking its own rules or leaving us in the dark. It's reserved, structured flawlessly, and drenched in talent, sexuality and fear. It's an exciting day to announce the arrival of a new director we can collectively hold to an exceptional standard, and watching one of my favorite screenwriters find the means to bring his creation to life like this bodes well for the future.