If you’ve seen any of the ads for writer Alex Garland’s (28 Days Later, Dredd) first film as a director, Ex Machina, then you know that it’s one of those robot movies that explores the murky boundaries between human intelligence and artificial intelligence. The basic setup is that Oscar Isaac is playing a genius tech billionaire type called Nathan, he’s created a robotic woman called Ava (Alicia Vikander), and he’s hired an intelligent but slightly nebbish man called Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to test out the limits of her intelligence and determine whether she really is a fully realized consciousness, or just a very convincing approximation of one.
If this movie hadn’t been advertised, you wouldn’t know any of that until you got a good chunk of the way into it though. During the opening few scenes, Gleeson’s character has been thrown into a fairly fantastic setting that he isn’t familiar with, and it isn’t completely clear to him or us why he’s there or what he’s supposed to be doing. There’s a good chunk of runtime, before Isaac’s character explains things, where we’re forced to sit in an uncertain situation and do our best to blindly explore it, just as much as the protagonist is. Is Gleeson’s character in danger? Is he about to embark on a magical and life-changing journey? It’s not clear, but what’s clear is that anything is possible with this setup, and thanks to that the film is instantly interesting.