Alicia Vikander

Photo Credit: Courtesy of A24 Films | Daily Texan Staff

“Ex-Machina” is a film that plays with the idea that there is a muddled difference between human and machine. Granted, there have been many films that tackle this subject, but the majority of those movies are more heavily invested in science-fiction.

“Ex-Machina” has sci-fi elements too, but it is much more a psychological thriller that forces three intelligent minds to face off against each other. The film is brilliantly tense, with chilling performances by all the lead characters.

Computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to stay at a secluded facility owned by his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a tech genius who’s determined to be the first to perfect artificial intelligence. Caleb’s job during his week-long excursion is to perform a Turing Test, a examination to help decide whether a machine has developed intelligence that is equal to that of a human, on a female android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Ana is curious about Caleb and expresses a desire to see the outside world, but she warns Caleb that Nathan is not to be trusted. Now, Caleb must decide whether he should side with the beautiful Ana or his mysterious boss.

The suspense in this film is simply chilling, thanks mostly to the setting. Nathan’s facility is a large compound, yet it feels intensely claustrophobic. Following Caleb through its labyrinth-like layout is terrifying. Another component of the thrilling nature of the place is Nathan himself. He seems to lurk around every corner, and he appears to be always observing his guests. With his vast CCTV network, it’s quite likely.

The beautiful visuals help convey the scientific achievements that Nathan has created. Little details, such as the keycard-accessed bedroom doors to the biometric mirrors, invoke a strange world that’s both amazing and unsettling. Ava’s robotic exo-skeleton is brilliantly designed and serves as a contrast to Ava’s human side and a reminder why Caleb cautions himself from growing attached to the cyborg.  

Gleeson is great as the eager, yet curious Caleb. He serves as a great outlet for the audience as they take in the technological wonders of the facility. Vikander is incredibly sympathetic as the wide-eyed Ava. She manages to make the character charming with her sense of wonder, but she also appears creepy becasue of her robotic elements.

The film’s breakthrough performance is Isaac’s fierce portrayal of Nathan. His character is nearly unreadable, so he can go from polite host to mad scientist in a heartbeat. His sense of achievement, playboy attitude and desire for perfection drive the story. He even provides the majority of the comedic relief. A moment when he drunkenly dances with his slave-like assistant is both disturbing and hilarious.

The tension itself cleverly builds throughout  of the film. Director and writer Alex Garland does a good job keeping the audience unsure about who’s the true villain of the film. He also does a great job highlighting a cautionary tale about technological process and how ego can be a dangerous motive for tinkering with nature.

“Ex Machina” conveys a creepy tale of three people (Ava, after all, is person-like) using their wits against one another to achieve both greatness and freedom. Garland’s first foray into directing presents a film that uses elaborate visuals, unstable characters and creative, technological fantasy to place the audience in a world of both wonder and terror.

Director: Alex Garland

Genre: Sci-fi/Thriller

Runtime: 108 minutes

Rating: 9/10 Intoxicated Oscar Isaacs

 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal Studios

Universal Studios’ “Seventh Son,” a fantasy film by Sergei Bodrov, boasts gorgeous vistas, a couple of action scenes and A-list performers, such as Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. Unfortunately, “Son” is totally devoid of humanity: It fails to connect emotionally to the audience. The result is a mercilessly boring adaptation of “The Spook’s Apprentice,” a children’s novel by Joseph Delaney.

In its opening scenes, “Seventh Son” gracelessly casts us into its medieval setting and introduces us to Master Gregory (Bridges). Gregory is a “Spook,” a legendary knight who hunts down and destroys dark creatures and monsters. His latest target is Mother Malkin (Moore), an evil witch who killed his last apprentice and now seeks to rule the world. Her plan: to take over on the night of the “Blood Moon,” a night where the moon turns red and strengthens her magical powers, rendering her unstoppable. 

In need of a new apprentice, Gregory recruits Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), a farm boy who is the seventh son of a seventh son. As it turns out, being born seventh has its perks. Tom has extraordinary strength and resilience — both invaluable abilities in the monster-hunting business. If Gregory can successfully train him before the Blood Moon arrives, they can vanquish Mother Malkin for good.

​Watch the official trailer for "Seventh Son" here:

Unfortunately, the script never develops Tom beyond a blank slate — and, although the writing doesn’t do him any favors, Barnes’ performance is flatter than paper. Bridges delivers a Rooster Cogburn-esque performance that suitably entertains in spite of his strange accent, and he seems to be having fun in the role. The same goes for Moore, who hams it up to the max but never becomes scary.

During their adventure, Tom meets Alice (Alicia Vikander), a kind witch who serves as Mother Malkin’s spy but also hopes to help the Spooks. Vikander does her best with the poor material, but is dragged down by a romance plot which sparks between her and Barnes. When I say spark, I mean that literally: A blue light sparks between the pairs’ hands when they touch for the first time, a kind of magic which signals they are destined to be together.  

Romance isn’t the only thing in “Seventh Son” that moves briskly. The story suffers from light-speed pacing. The characters are thrust into action as soon as they’re introduced. We never get to know them as the film sprints from plot point to plot point. Because we aren’t invested in the Spooks, their battles against evil are dull and repetitive. We don’t care about who wins and who dies. To make things worse, the special effects are lousy. Plus, the 3-D effects blur and darken the screen, so much so that audiences must fight to understand what’s going on. 

“Seventh Son” occasionally touches on the idea that humans can be just as monstrous as the monsters themselves. Alice explains that witches have the potential to be good, and only become evil because society has rejected and persecuted them. She certainly makes a good case for that argument, considering her innocence remains unsullied. Though the film tries to teach the audience that the world operates in shades of gray, the Spooks never stop thinking in terms of black and white. How can audiences buy into the film’s lesson if its heroes don’t?

“Seventh Son” is a mediocre effort by everyone involved, a failure by all accounts that is let down most by its poor script. Universal Studios should’ve demanded seven more rewrites.