Alex Garland's directorial debut, Ex Machina is a taut, tense and elegant sci-fi thriller that is utterly compelling from start to finish.

Garland, best known for the screenplay for 28 Days Later and his book The Beach, takes the reins for this smart and stylish movie that explores the dangers of increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence for the human race, as well as the moral issues of man creating thinking beings.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a hotshot young coder working for Bluebook, the world's largest internet search engine. He wins an internal lottery in the company to spend a week with Bluebook's reclusive and mysterious CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). After being flown by helicopter to the billionaire's lair set into the side of Alaskan mountains, Caleb soon learns that his prize comes with a purpose.

Using the Turing test, Nathan puts Caleb to work deciphering whether his remarkably advanced female robot Ava (Alicia Vikander) is sentient. Caleb has come to the conclusion that Ava is capable of consciousness based on a series of conversations, which becoming more intimate, and chilling, as they progress.

A sense of distinct unease runs through the proceedings, which is greatly augmented by the incredibly stark environs of Nathan's high-security dwelling, as well as the glacial landscape that surrounds them. The sense of being caged in, like Ava is trapped in the sessions, is palpable, and gives the film an oppressive, suffocating atmosphere. The tension is broken momentarily by a truly unexpected disco dancing scene that is as funny as it is surreal.

Stylish sets and impressive cinematography aside, the film is carried by the outstanding performances of its three  stars.

Oscar Isaac is completely mesmerising as Nathan, imbuing the proceedings with a sense of discomfort and unpredictability with his mixture of alpha male posturing, egomaniacal tendencies and brooding intelligence. Gleeson, meanwhile, provides the moral compass for the movie as Caleb, a smart and empathetic character whose apparent vulnerability masks a deeper cunning. Alicia Vikander puts in an incredibly nuanced and practised performance as Ava, who is a robot as we've never seen before.

Ex Machina is a deeply enjoyable cinematic experience that stays with you long after you've left the cinema.

Sarah McIntyre