Ex_Machina review

This sweet-sounding, smart-thinking British science-fiction thriller impresses on Blu-ray

This sci-fi/thriller and directorial debut from Alex Garland (who previously penned the scripts for 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd), focuses on slowly-built tension rather than wall-to-wall action, but is all the better for it. Imbued with a pervasive sense of things-not-being-quite-what-they-seem, Ex_Machina compels you to focus your attention until it reaches its unnerving conclusion.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a coder working for the world's largest search engine, wins a staff lottery and gets to spend a week with the reclusive company founder Nathan (Oscar Isaac) in his mountain retreat. Upon arrival, Caleb discovers he will be conducting a Turing Test on Nathan's latest invention, an advanced AI machine called Ava (Alicia Vikander), with a female face and hi-tech body. Nathan wants Caleb to discover if Ava is capable of independent thought, but does he have an ulterior motive? Is Ava truly self-aware, or just programmed to act that way? Is Caleb smarter than he looks? So many questions...

Featuring only three main speaking roles and essentially limited to one location, Ex_Machina can feel like a stageplay brought to the silver screen. Yet this minimalist nature is also its strength, particularly when the trio of characters are so well crafted (particularly Nathan, a cross between General Kurtz and Mark Zuckerberg) and the location is beautifully designed and photographed. Garland proves a success behind the camera, too; framing the protagonists' interactions with a barely-moving camera that heightens the tension.

Picture: This 2.40:1 AVC encode deposits Ex_Machina's digital photography onto your screen without fuss. It's not the sharpest picture we've seen (and there are times when then image has stylistically soft areas) but clarity is never in question and colours and skin tones appear authentic. There's a somewhat dark feel to the cinematography, favouring deep blacks over punchy brightness, but it never results in overt crush. Exterior shots of the lush Norwegian landscape impress the most.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: The sound design here is a departure from the norm, with Garland happy to let key scenes play out bereft of dialogue, and letting the superb score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow envelop you in the visuals. Thankfully, it sounds resplendent in this DTS-HD 5.1 mix, growing to a room-filling crescendo in Chapter 18.

Aside from the score, the mix delivers dialogue with utter intelligibility and utilises the soundfield to create a believable ambience, be it the naturalistic sound of an on-rushing waterfall or the claustrophobic confines of Ava's quarters.

Annoyingly, the US Blu-ray releases features a DTS:X mix – the world's first, in fact.
Audio rating: 4.5/5

Extras: Ex_Machina is the sort of title crying out for some decent, in-depth extra material. Garland is obviously a filmmaker with ideas and many would appreciate some insight into the movie's themes, VFX and soundtrack production. Unfortunately, all that is offered here are five brief featurettes that ostensibly cover the story, casting, location, etc, but barely scratch the surface. Pah.
Extra rating: 1/5

We say: Riveting, intelligent sci-fi-tinged thriller on a disc with solid AV credentials

Ex_Machina, Universal Pictures, Region B BD, £25 Approx