Another ironic retelling of the Fall myth, maybe not from the title down this time. 'Ex machina' is a bit of a red herring, since there's no out-of-nowhere resolution to the plot. Nor is there a preoccupation with the presence or absence of a divinity imposing order on the world. Rather, the film is about the struggle between a Frankenstein-type creator and his creation, a well-worn dynamic here given a unique gendered twist.
Nathan is the troubled genius who wants to play God. He invites Caleb into his manicured Garden of Eden and sets up an elaborate temptation in order to test his creation Eva. If Eva manages to manipulate Caleb into helping her escape, she would pass the 'Turing Test' and be considered a true AI. During the course of the film we learn that Eva is the latest in a number of models which have served Nathan (at least in part) as slaves. The film is partly about the way women are 'created' by men, programmed to perform and conform to male desires. Which makes the film's ending all the more troubling from the perspective of the patriarchy. Eva escapes from Nathan, but she also escapes from the innocent and good-hearted Caleb, who she was designed for. She's charmed both him and us, but she has done this for no one's benefit but her own. She is not only self-aware, but independent.
It may be worth comparing this to Under The Skin, where Scarlett Johansson plays an alien forced to seduce Glaswegians at the command of fierce male motorcyclists. While she preys on other men, she is always prey herself. In Ex Machina the AI escapes the dominion of her creator and the man she has been created for – Eve is free from both God and Adam. Difficult to escape the conclusion that while it's a more straightforward genre film in some respects, it's the more confrontational and difficult.
It is, I should say, a very effective thriller. The CGI is a muted presence, and the film is largely about three actors on a couple of sets trying to get the audience to second guess their characters' intentions. The tension is tightened largely through the forceful presence of Oscar Isaac's glowering turn as Nathan, and the doe-eyed innocence of Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson who seem caught in a labyrinth with a Minotaur. I thought it was cold in the auditorium I was in, and ended up wrapping myself in my jacket, but tbh I think that was just the effect of the film's icy and uncertain atmosphere.