Cinema‘s fascination with the concept of the technological singularity shows no sign of abating, with recent entries ranging from the sublime (“Her”) to the ridiculous (“Transcendence”). But despite the crowded field, Alex Garland’s directorial debut manages to find something new and disquieting to say about it in this stylish and well-crafted thriller.
When young coder Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) wins a corporate competition to spend a week with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the CEO of his company, he doesn’t know what to expect. Arriving at the remote facility, he’s required to sign a wide-ranging and severe non-disclosure agreement before Nathan introduces him to his experiment: an artificial intelligence called Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb is assigned to perform an enhanced ‘Turing test’ but over the course of the week, he begins to realise that Nathan is not being completely honest with him.
Garland’s screenplay is a masterful exercise in economy, essentially a four-part ensemble piece which would be equally at home on the stage as it is on screen. The remote setting, despite its modern Apple-esque technological comforts, is used to terrific effect to create a claustrophobic and unsettling atmosphere that drives a creeping sense of paranoia, bolstered by Gleeson, Isaac and Vikander all delivering skilfully nuanced performances that amplify the uncertainty. The film is a cautionary tale of humanity’s hubris with a strong feminist undertone and, despite the title, has an ending which is as heartbreakingly logical as it is earned. This is top notch sci-fi fare marrying social commentary and technological speculation to create a chilling and all-too-plausible glimpse of the future.