Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a rare opportunity of a one week session at the home of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the reclusive internet billionaire who founded Blue Book, the company for which he works. Once he arrives he realizes just how isolated the home is, with the only other person being Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), Nathan’s maid who does not speak English. Nathan explains the need for this seclusion: he has been working on an AI humanoid called Ava (Alicia Vikander) and needs Caleb to perform a Turing Test (where an AI must convince its tester that it is human). Over the course of his chats with Ava she expresses her longings and desires, as well as revealing dark secrets about Nathan. Caleb’s thoughts become blurred by the effectiveness of Ava and the realisation that Nathan is not completely honest with him, leading to decisions that have unexpected consequences.
Vikander’s performance leads the film in style and content. Being a skeletal machine with the exception of her face, the expectation is for something cold and calculating, but instead the humanity seeps through the small window. The film has a stripped back yet highly polished design, laying bare the actors and the writing, leaving no room to hide. Added to this is the film's working within neo-noir conventions, with Ava the alluring femme fatale to Caleb’s sole detective, and Nathan as the corrupt, untrustworthy authority that holds all the cards. As each hand is dealt and each truth revealed another turn diminishes those assertions until the unexpected results take their toll. All the ideas swirling around, from the nature of intelligence to role of inspiration, longing, desire and the deliberateness of actions, work within this thriller framework.
Suspenseful and highly intelligent, Ex Machina makes the most of its minimalist setting with ever expansive ideas.