Modern Day Nightmares ft. "Ex Machina"
The third contender this week for FLIX’s Spooky Month, is spooky… with a twist – a technological twist! Thinking about what new terrors terrorize our world and perhaps imaginations in this 21st century, and falling down the less obvious albeit somewhat terribly obvious rabbit hole of technology and the trust humans place in it, FLIX sheds a spooky flickering light onto director Alex Garland’s 2015 film… Ex Machina. Buckle up ghosts and ghouls, and get ready for the plot twists, suspense and suspenseful score, eery yet beautiful cinematography, and mind f*cks this sci-fi/thriller is about to dish out, via code.
Starting with plot twists because perhaps you’ve never seen Ex Machina (though it was released six years ago), and really need something to drag you into the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI)… I counted three plot twists and one of them contains its own twists… exciting! Or… scary? The premise of Ex Machina is that a software programmer named Caleb won a contest to visit his boss’ secluded luxury home, to help him work on a project. The company is basically meant to be something like Google – for context and understanding of the depths and reach Caleb’s boss Nathan and his company have. To avoid spoilers even if most people have already seen this sci-fi/thriller, let’s just say the real reason Caleb is sent there isn't for the reason he and we, the audience, thought it was. And it’s in this plot twist of the test in which Caleb believed himself to be brought to this secluded home and lab, that we also discover more micro plot twists which relate specifically to Caleb… which hurt to see, hear, and I’m sure feel if you were Caleb. Second, we have a plot twist coupled with a mind f*ck as we learn Caleb may not be as much of the sheep you may have painted him to be. Obviously less smart than his boss Nathan (because duh, he owns and runs a company like Google in his 30’s), it may not always take a genius to deceive a genius… sometimes all you need is enough foresight. But can the same be said when it’s man vs. AI? Which brings us to the third and final plot twist. Hmm….
Now let’s talk about what makes Ex Machina Spooky Month worthy. Besides being categorized as a “thriller”, this film boasts a score that really makes you feel the environment in which the film takes place and our characters exist within. I’ve mentioned before that scores can make you feel emotions or send chills down your spine, but I’ve never spoken about a score making you feel as though you’re physically transported and now co-existing within the same space or environment that the film exists within! This I find, incredibly cool. Ex Machina’s score perfectly pairs the setting – Nathan’s secluded, high-tech, luxury, minimalist “mansion” – with the environment it exists within which is up in the mountains, completely alone, surrounded by subliminal and picturesque views of such a landscape. It feels empty and cold yet gushing with life. It feels eery and quiet, yet full of sounds and sometimes music. The house perfectly pairs the expansiveness of nature on the mountainside or within the valley, with the expansiveness of the home. Though a “mansion”, the home is minimalistic enough and pulls a lot of its interior from the exterior. You feel as though you’re outside even though you’re inside, and the score does just that as well. Loud and suspenseful at the right parts, just like when you're alone in the wilderness, surrounded by the sounds of nature… and suddenly you hear something. Yet it’s all so quiet you immediately feel at ease… but that never lasts does it, and soon the quiet makes you feel at unease.
Bouncing off the binary of setting vs. score, Ex Machina also has another wonderful binary I’m sure everyone can appreciate, that usually exists well within the thriller or suspense realm of films or series. Is it true or not true, that everything terrifying usually happens outside in the woods? At a secluded lake? Cabin? House? Are these settings almost always somewhere terribly far from any city or town, completely isolated, just you or them in nature? You already know the answer is yes, and Ex Machina is no different – except for the fact that its all very luxurious and high-tech, and not some old worn-down haunted cabin or gothic home erected in the 1800’s type-vibe or architecture! The familiarity of modern-day technology gives the Ex Machina setting and house, a sense of comfort – you’re connected, not disconnected. But… are you really? Hmm again… Suspenseful theories aside, this film was set in Alaska and Norway so mountain ranges, valleys, waterfalls, forests, complete and utter beauty and seclusion is everything you’re surrounded by. The force of nature, and the miniscule power of man. It almost makes you feel as though you're alone on the planet but at the same time, much more connected to it. The cinematography of this film therefore not only gives us something absolutely stunning to look at, but also sets the tone of how it makes human beings feel in this environment. How it makes Nathan appear, how it makes Caleb feel and appear, and how it makes the viewers feel just by looking at it (paired with the score, of course).
So is Ex Machina truly scary enough to watch in October as we get closer and closer to Halloween? Yes! Though the worst parts don’t take place until the end of the film, the suspense builds throughout its 1 hour 48-minute run time. More and more things start to go astray, we learn more and more things that we aren’t sure if we should trust or not, and the ending truly is the scariest part of all, illuminating and illustrating the modern-day question of whether or not humans can actually trust technology – the construct made by humans, for humans, to better the lives of humans. Is this the new direction Halloween is taking as the years continue to pass and society becomes not only more technologically advanced, but technologically dependent? A third and final “hmm…” as I leave you all to watch this film and think about the evolving role and personality of technology today.
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