Writer director Alex Garland has written several very distinct dystopian films (28 Days Later, Dredd) and his directorial debut is assured and not unexpectedly, unique. Oscar Isaac is Nathan, a Steve Jobs-esque reclusive titan who invites Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), a coder at his web service monolith, to his retreat deep in the mountains to conduct the testing of an artificial intelligence being (Alicia Vikander) he has created. While Nathan and Caleb start off in an awkward forced friendship hampered by their employer-employee dynamic, and the fact that the reason for Caleb’s selection seems flimsy, they soon become adversarial – with Nathan chastising Caleb for his unscientific approach and Caleb increasingly distrustful of Nathan’s methods. It then becomes unclear exactly who is being tested, Eva, Caleb or Nathan, as the three negotiate their roles while strategizing to achieve their aims.
Expertly paced and beautifully photographed, there is a little bit of Her and Spielberg’s A.I. in here, but ultimately, the film that best captures the ethos of this picture is Mousetrap. This is an intelligent, absorbing and imaginative sci-fi thriller which rejects shocks for a slow dance and smartly realized dawning at the end.