Men playing with microchips learn that perhaps highly intelligent robots aren’t the best idea in this competent and exciting directorial debut from Alex Garland, who also wrote the script. Computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a weekend hanging out with his eccentric, reclusive boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) at his secluded house in the middle of nowhere. Shortly after arriving, Caleb learns that he’s to take part in an experiment where he must interact with Nathan’s latest creation: a mightily attractive and lifelike robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb is told to analyze Ava’s legitimacy as a full-blown A.I., a thinking robot with emotional capability. He does this, and develops a robot crush along the way. Not only is Nathan playing god, but he’s totally using Caleb as a guinea pig. While Garland could’ve easily made this a Caleb vs. Nathan affair, he tosses in enough variables and throws plenty of curveballs to keep the audience guessing. The film works as a thriller, science fiction, a mystery, and even passes a few horror movie tests. Isaac is developing into one of his generation’s best actors, and he’s quite the chameleon. His Nathan is a slithery, hard-drinking, narcissistic, brilliant mess of a human, and a far cry from the grouchy folk singer he played in Inside Llewyn Davis. Garland has been kicking around Hollywood for years, delivering solid screenplays for the likes of 28 Days Later, Dredd and Sunshine. His work behind the camera here definitely points to a future directing if he wants it.

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