We’re living in a boom time for cinematic science fiction.
Whether you like your sci-fi stories epic or intimate, there’s bound to be something at theaters to your liking. Movies like the Tom Cruise space-war action flick Edge of Tomorrow or the tiny, Oscar-winning romance Her (about the relationship between a man and an artificial intelligence) are coming up with bold new visions of the future seemingly every other week at the multiplex.
Similar to the boom in indie horror right now, the sci-fi genre is taking off because digital visual effects have finally gotten cheap enough that just about anybody can tell stories set in futures previously undreamt of.
That’s why Ex Machina, the mind-bending new drama from novelist and screenwriter turned director Alex Garland, is so great. It’s just a story of four characters in a secluded location, shot on an obviously small budget. But deep inside of it is a fully imagined idea of where humanity is headed — and what evils we’re capable of.
What sets Ex Machina apart is that it’s a movie where the characters themselves know what kind of movie they’re in. A genius programmer like Caleb, for instance, would probably know a little bit about artificial intelligence, and Garland’s script gives him the smarts and know-how that let the script skip past a lot of the exposition that might bog down other takes on this material.
That intelligence adds to the film’s slowly mounting twin senses of paranoia and terror.
[A]t the core of Ex Machina are a set of very human themes, like loneliness and legacy, along with a big sci-fi idea: what would it mean to be a god who creates another god? And how would you ever live with yourself after that?