At first blush this seems a highly original piece, however as you settle down to it one begins to see very firm shades of Frankenstein. From a cinema perspective, despite the technological bias I was brought back to the 1972 classic by Joseph Mankiewicz, Sleuth where Michael Caine and Laurance Olivier are in a house together and at least one of them has murder on his mind. Although the intention here is not to kill the tension is still there.
The film starts with a young programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson ,About Time, 2013) who works for the world’s largest search engine “Bluebook” winning a week’s stay with the founder of the company, Nathan (Oscar Isaac, a Most Violent Year, 2014). Caleb is flown up to near Nathan’s home (in deepest Alaska) but has to go the remaining way on foot, due to the helicopter pilot not being allowed to get any closer. After some very awkward first moments and the first greeting , the two eventually settle down to an all-be-it uneasy working relationship. It turns out Caleb was there for a reason.
Caleb is there to help Nathan with his latest creation. At the age of 13 Nathan developed the algorithms for a search Engine called “Blue Book”. Now a silicon valley billionaire he tells Caleb the secret of his success was that while others saw the search engines as a way of knowing what people were thinking about, he saw it as a way of knowing how people were thinking. It turns out Nathan has developed an AI and wants Caleb to conduct a Turing test on the AI to see if she can pass as human.
This of course cannot be a pure Turing test, and as such is the foundation for some very intense and possible disturbing discussions between Caleb and Nathan. When Caleb meets the android Ava (Alicia Vikander, Seventh Son 2014) he quickly realises there may be more to the week.
As Caleb learns more from Ava and gets to know her, he sees that both Ava and Nathan seem to have very different views on each other. As each day passes Caleb sinks deeper in to a rabbit hole which would have impressed Alice on her way to Wonderland. As with the original Frankenstein, Adam or in this case Ava needs to escape. Plans are hatched and the situation quickly descends in to one of survival.
Throughout you get a sense of being trapped in the bunker of house which Nathan has, indeed this is reflected in how even Caleb has access to the house. The person we see with Caleb is the real person, everybody else may not be what or who they seem. Isaac’s Nathan is a perfect example of characterisation; we were never meant to like him and as the movie progresses we are given no reason to actually start liking him.
It is a great tense thriller, the plot is generally tight, although some developments are fairly well sign-posted, if you manage to catch the clues. There are a couple of turns and twists; not all of which predicted.
The tension and edginess of this production make it work, it is dark and the more we learn of Nathan the more we begin to wonder if he shut himself off from the world or did the world discard him. Who will escape the confines of the house, how will the android survive the week by passing the test. Is the android the only person being tested?
The special effects are flawless and seamless, important given the nature of Eva’s android frame. If you are looking for stomach turning violence you will not find it here, but if what you seek is an intelligent piece of cinema, watch this one.
This movie is as much a modernisation of Frankenstein as a reflection on the modern world around us. Written and directed by Alex Garland, this is his directorial debut.