Ex Machina. Review.


You can lust after robots.

That is one thing this intelligent movie proves.

It’s not just from the pen, it’s now from the eye, of Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later scriptwriter) as he makes an impressive directorial debut.

The story is about Caleb, a star employee of Google (not exactly hidden), who wins a week’s stay at the owner’s secluded mansion in the country to work on a secret project.  This turns out to be the latest iteration in Oscar Isaac’s (Google boss) quest to create the perfect AI robot.

Caleb’s role in all this is to perform a Turing test on the robot (The Turing Test is when a machine attempts to fool a human being into thinking it is human).  This is helped by the fact that the robot in question is the dazzlingly beautiful Ava, played by Alicia Vikander.  Her screen presence, often shorn of hair, is electrifying throughout.

Naturally the test escalates as Ava appears to seduce Caleb (and who can blame him for falling for her allure).

The film asks us to consider whether artificial intelligence can rise above the purely mechanistic and create genuine emotion and human thinking, doing so in rich, but sterile, surroundings.

Is Nathan (the boss) playing God and can Caleb (probably a deliberately biblical sounding name) stop what may be one step too far for humankind?

And if Ava really is capable of human thinking can she outwit the experiment and establish authority of her own.  All is revealed.

Much has been made of the film’s title – that it is a meaningless construct – but it seems fairly obvious to me.

Can the machine (Ava) become an ex-machine?





H is for Hawk. Book review


H is for Help.

H is for Haunting.

Either could have been the title, but the fundamental of this book is the hawk that occupies it’s central plot.

Mabel is a young goshawk bought by Helen MacDonald in the wake of her father’s death.  She sets herself a distraction from her profound grief to train this wild beast to the exclusion of everything else in her life.

It’s a return to her childhood where she had a fascination for hawking, partly fuelled by a 1950’s treatise on the subject written by closet homosexual T.H. White and author of what became both Camelot and The Sword in the Stone.  It’s a book she disliked intensely at the time but that she has come around to as she sets out to make Mabel a controllable accomplice (she’ll never be a pet).

I’ve never read a book even remotely like this.  Macdonald is a poet and that certainly comes through in some of the long descriptive chapters that capture her state of mind (not healthy) and the world she is drawn into.

Rarely can anyone have written such a loving description of the English countryside with its unwritten rules, its foibles and its power.

In fact rarely can a book like this have been written.

It operates on three levels.  An unburdening of Macdonald’s grief for the death of her beloved father.  An unsympathetic biography of T.H. White and a rip-roaring coaching manual on goshawk rearing.

It’s not an easy read but it’s a profound one and it threatens to become a modern classic in a category all of its own.

I would highly recommend it.

Intelligent Horror. It Follows


It Follows begins how it ends.


A young woman runs from her suburban home half dressed, terrified, confused.

She crosses the road haphazardly, then runs back to her house picks up her bag and escapes in her car, with her father shouting after her trying to work out what the hell is going on.

It is not explained.

The movie then unfolds.  No captions.  No narrative.  It just unwraps itself in a way I have never seen in horror.

Whilst it nods at convention (the music is unquestionably influenced by early John Carpenter and the cast is a bunch of Sorority kids) it is completely original in every other way.

It’s beautifully shot, carefully scripted without a single ham line and has a plot that is entirely unpredictable.

The basic premise is this.  A “thing” (monster, demon, zombie, entity: call it what you like) is passed between couples having sex.  And then it follows the ‘host’ until it is passed on to the next host, again following sex.

It manifests itself as a sort of walking zombie that follows the host.  Should it catch them it will not only kill them but possibly all those in the chain behind.

That’s easy to understand.  What isn’t is how our heroine Jay, played beautifully by Maika Monroe, attempts to resolve her plight.  Really, this is a rare horror performance, understated and properly acted.  Her fear is palpable.  And she doesn’t go wandering into unlit basements every five minutes.  It’s up there with Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.

However, the plot becomes pretty confusing, but it kind of doesn’t matter because throughout this great movie you’re just taken in by its vitality, outstanding cinematography, freshness and the endless MacGuffins.

Seriously there must be 20 times you’re expecting to be scared to death (Hitchcock style musical and SFX builds) only for nothing to happen.

Anyone walking slowly in this movie could be the ‘entity’ and that’s repeatedly used as a trick.

Another great thing about it is the setting in Detroit.  It’s never overplayed but it adds a decaying creepiness that is entirely appropriate.

It’s a great addition to the world of horror.  Not as terrifying as some say, but absorbing and pure quality from start to startling finish.