Ex Machina ★★★★

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Enjoyably perverted, convincingly arid sci-fi sends a lanky programmer to the isolated home of an alpha-bro search engine mogul (played with delightful menace and eccentricity by Oscar Isaac) where he's been working up an AI prototype (Alicia Vikander). The testing that follows probes lightly at the ethics of artificial intelligence from a tense thriller framework and serves as an antidote to Spike Jonze and Spielberg-Kubrick's takes on similar ideas since it explores simulation of emotion and survival instinct as a developing facet in AI without taking these things as a given, and the methods it posits of acquiring data to create and test them are frightfully believable. By the end it's just Mary Shelley -- with faint echoes of Sleuth in the three-way battle of the wits between a machine, a person who lives for machines and a person with all the emotional warmth of a machine -- but with its allusions to sex slavery and the placing of female form onto a literally objectifying pedestal, it manages to critique the toxic masculinity of geekdom, an undercurrent usually ignored by movies like this. The splendidly bleak if deeply improbable Antichrist-like ending helps. Plus the atmosphere is marvelously sterile in a sort of push-button age Frank Lloyd Wright way, the score and soundtrack appropriately haunting. And any sci-fi movie openly weird enough to stop things in the middle for a disco breakdown is probably worth watching.

Also: wonderful All About Eve allusion when Ava discovers her predecessors.