Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Alex Garland
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
It’s fair to assume that Alex Garland probably doesn’t hold out much hope for our future. As a screenwriter, he has contrived a destiny for humankind that’s rife with doom. His dystopic outlook predicts zombie apocalypses (28 Days Later), the potential death of our greatest life source (Sunshine), and vast mega cities ruled by criminals (Dredd).
Curiously, this isn’t a film set in the far off future, but in an immediate, if more technologically advanced present. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, the edgy employee) is a programmer/coder for major Internet search engine Bluebook (read: Google), who has won a competition to spend the week at a remote mountain retreat with the company’s reclusive CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac, the bullish boss). Upon arrival however, Caleb discovers that he is expected to participate in an experiment involving Nathan’s latest creation: a new form of artificial intelligence housed in the body of a robotic woman named Ava (Alicia Vikander).
With the help of seamless CGI, Ava is brought to life on the screen with astonishing realisation. Vikander’s performance is a mechanical marvel. Ava comes across as intelligent and emotional in a way we characterize as human. Yet key to the success of Vikander’s performance is that her presence remains innately ethereal throughout. Her humanistically natural movements are inherently mechanized.
By way of the script, Garland asks some searching questions about our relationship with technology, turning the metaphor in o the literal as Caleb and Ava become closer during effectively uneasy interview scenes. As this friendship between man and machine blossoms, the writer/director constructs a disquieting sense of dread from behind the camera, which melds to the core of your own cerebral capacity. Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s score superbly pummels us psychologically as it booms eerily in the background as subjects of sexuality and identity are placed hand in hand with technology and explored with creeping delicacy.
Oddly though, Garland never finds the confidence to see his ideas through. The film soon descends into the realms of the 70s exploitation flicks, as plot threads involving synthetic skin lead to a string of gratuitous nudity scenes that are more likely to titillate than stimulate. Given that the story plays out at a slackened pace (not a complaint but more an observation), it sometimes feels as if Garland is using such techniques not for the benefit of the story, but as a way of retaining the audience’s attention. Soon the filmmaker looses focus altogether, with the finale frustratingly riddled with plot holes.
Still there’s enough of a calling card here for Garland to build upon. His predictions for our future may be dark, but his looks as if it could be quite bright.