posters-image-4In his directorial debut Alex Garland, the writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, has served up an intriguing minimalist sci-fi thriller that is more about what isn’t onscreen than what is. It’s a very simple story about an evil genius’s quest to design a sentient robot and the pawns he uses in the perfection of his plan. The cast of three (Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac) spends most of the film sequestered away in a remote house/research facility and the audience spends most of its time wondering if things can possibly end well, as layer upon layer of artifice is stripped away.

Caleb is a programmer who is thrilled to win a contest to spend a week with his brilliant and eccentric boss Nathan at his enormous estate in the mountains. When he gets there he finds that he is going to be helping him with his latest project, Ava, a beautiful robot who may or may not be capable of passing the Turning test, i.e. can she act so human that no one would know the difference? Caleb and Ava are supposed to spend all their time together so he can decide, but Caleb finds himself falling for her, then starts to wonder if her flirtation is meant to cloud his judgment. And Ava starts to wonder what will happen to her if she fails the test. The biggest problem though is that Nathan is actually more than just the brilliant eccentric. He is an enormous jerk who sees people and robots as disposable, which turns out to be his undoing.

It is a smart script, but the film suffers somewhat from its slow pace and its semi-cerebral tone which gives it the feeling of being a play more than a movie. The actors are all fine and it is well shot. As a science fiction flick it’s pretty lacking in effects, which is fine by me, but at the end, I felt like they had just gotten to the part that could be really interesting, that it could be a prequel to something a lot more fun. I don’t think this one needs to be seen on a big screen, but for anyone interested in artificial intelligence, it is a nice addition to the genre.

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