Ex Machina is screenwriter Alex Garland's directorial debut, and it is quite a film to ruminate over. Judging from his movies, Garland is not the cheeriest cuss on the planet. He wrote two annihilation films -- zombie feast 28 Days Later and the end of days saga Sunshine -- and his next movie is actually titled Annihilation. Ex Machina (as in Deus Ex Machina with God removed from the machine) is as gloomy as the others but leaves the viewer more to chew on. This is the story of a loner, billionaire programming genius dude (a terrific Oscar Isaac) who invites young Caleb, one of his company's underlings (Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson), to his remote subterranean lair to drink beer and test his newest invention -- a semi-transparent (literally and figuratively) robotic woman named Ava (Swedish beauty Alicia Vikander) -- for true artificial intelligence. Signs of sentience, we're told through a series of interviews between Caleb and Ava, are self-awareness, self-interest and intent. And therein lies the movie's mystery. It's a cat and mouse game but we're never entirely sure who is the cat. Garland's framing, pacing and lighting are Kubrickian, and the final quarter of the film is as shocking and pessimistic as the best of the great master's work. What to make of this film. Maybe Garland regards human explorations in the cyberworld as hubristic and dangerous as the film purports or the movie might just be a reflection of the views of skeptics and paranoiacs. I suppose it doesn't matter because the three leads are superb, and the curious and provocative ending is fresh and not a little bit chilling. Highly recommended.