The Films of Alex Garland
Ex Machina (May 15/15)
Alex Garland's directorial debut, Ex Machina follows computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) as he wins an invitation to his mysterious boss' (Oscar Isaac's Nathan) remote estate - where Caleb is eventually introduced to a beautiful, intelligent artificial lifeform (Alicia Vikander's Ava). Garland, working from his own screenplay, has infused Ex Machina with a pace best described as deliberate, with Garland's willingness to let the story breathe having both positive and negative ramifications on the movie as a whole (ie certain sections are far more enthralling and entertaining than others). The inherently compelling premise, coupled with stellar performances from the three stars, goes a long way towards keeping things interesting throughout the (admittedly overlong) running time, with the expanded-from-a-short-film feel generally allayed by the sinister escalation that's been hardwired into the proceedings (ie it's obvious this is all heading in a decidedly less-than-savory direction). By the time the violent (yet oddly difficult-to-swallow) ending rolls around, Ex Machina has confirmed its place as a strong first effort from Garland that bodes well for his future endeavors behind the camera.
Based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation follows biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) as she and four other scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh's Dr. Ventress, Gina Rodriguez's Anya, Tuva Novotny's Cass, and Tessa Thompson's Josie) agree to venture into an area infected by an alien presence and known as the Shimmer - with the movie detailing the characters' increasingly perilous efforts at studying the unusual activity inside. Writer/director Alex Garland delivers a striking and impressively captivating opening stretch that instantly captures the viewer's attention and interest, with the movie's compelling atmosphere heightened by Portman's stirring work as the conflicted, grieving central character (and it's clear, too, that Portman's costars fare just as well, though Leigh's bizarrely ambivalent take on her character is questionable at best). The narrative's shift into its comparatively uneventful midsection, which mostly follows the protagonists as they walk through the Shimmer and make interesting/horrifying discoveries, suffers from a somewhat hit-and-miss feel compounded by an overlong running time (ie portions of the second act could've used some trimming), with the movie benefiting substantially from a continuing emphasis on sequences of a thoroughly engrossing nature (eg the crew is attacked by a vicious hybrid creature). Annihilation's compelling vibe grows and grows as it progresses, to be sure, while the incredibly bizarre yet completely hypnotic closing stretch ensures that the picture ends on a palpably memorable note, which undoubtedly confirms the whole thing's place as another better-than-average sci-fi effort from Garland.