Computer programmer Domhnall Gleeson travels to the Alaskan retreat of his reclusive boss (Oscar Isaac) and is smitten with android Alicia Vikander.
British novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland makes his directing debut with this stylish sci-fi thriller, a chilly cerebral fable about artificial intelligence and human fallibility that touches an exposed nerve – our nagging fear that sometime in the not too distant future computers will outstrip their creators.
Gleeson’s geeky protagonist wins a competition to spend a week with Isaac and, on arrival, learns that his role is to carry out a test on the billionaire’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence, Ava (Vikander), to determine whether or not she possesses consciousness.
The stunning Ava is a disquieting, sensual mix of the human and robotic, impressively achieved on screen by means of artful costumes and crafty CGI. For Gleeson, Ava passes the test – but how does she feel about him?
As the plot gathers pace, you may find yourself a step or two ahead of the story’s human characters, but the film is still gripping and disconcerting.
The casting is perfect, too, with Gleeson’s anxious everyman the ideal foil for Isaac’s arrogant alpha male and Vikander’s ambivalent heroine.
With only one other character, Gleeson’s silent helpmate (Japanese dancer Sonoya Mizuno), and very nearly a single setting, Garland creates a mood of gathering claustrophobia that enhances the unease provoked by his film’s perplexing ideas.