Duel Movie Review: Ex-Machina vs Poltergeist 2015


Director Gil Kenan sets up a spooky scenario with Poltergeist 2015, child actor Kyle Catlett as the terrified Griffen Bowen makes the small house look so much larger. He, a lost soul a la the small alien from E.T. the Extra-Terrestria, is the center of the hysteria that is to follow, and it is that fear and sense of dread and wonder that director Kenan failed to elaborate on.   A 3-D film that appears to have tricks made specifically for the 3-D glasses, poor Sam Rockwell can’t come to grips with the character he’s supposed to be playing, down and out dad Eric Bowen.  After such striking work in Duncan Jones 2009 celebrated sci-fi flick, Moon, as well as his paranoid / schizophrenic Guy Fleegman in the 1999 Star Trek send-up, Galaxy Quest, this should have been a walk in the park for Rockwell.  It’s his out of sorts demeanor that pulls the film one way while the novice Kyle Catlett gives the film its life.  Actress Rosemarie DeWitt fares no better than Rockwell, her out-of-touch mom routine as Amy Bowen.

Hiring the older Will Robinson from 1998’s Lost In Space, Jared Harris sixteen years later, to be the “new” Tangina Barrons (played brilliantly by Zelda Rubinstein in the first three Poltergeist flicks.)


Director Kenan beats us over the head with the “this house is clean” line, never once bringing something equally memorable to the updated version.  It’s not a reboot, it’s a remake thirty-three years later, and while showing promise, the film fizzles terribly at the end, all the suspense and jolts evaporating like a ghost into thin air.



Written and Directed by Alex Garland

As with Duncan Jones’ celebrated sci-fi mini-masterpieces, Moon and Source Code, Garland creates a compelling and quite interesting film, yet another perspective on artificial intelligence, and one that succeeds if you suspend your belief and watch the interplay between the characters.

The first question, of course, is why would some multi-billionaire owner of the “Blue Book” search engine (as thinly a veiled Google as the Michael Douglas/Demi Moore mini-classic Disclosure’s DigiCom appeared to be about the Digital Corporation) not have a bevy of human security around him and keep sober with so much at stake?   The second question, one ignored by The Avengers Age of Ultron and The Matrix is that if these artificially inseminated machine gods really were plugged in to all of cyberspace, there would be absolutely no stopping them.

The term “Deus ex machina” – god (f)rom the machine – is a theme as well, one repeated in science fiction. From Stephen Spielberg’s A.I. to the Terminator and Matrix series, The Avengers Age of Ultron and now Alex Garland’s “Ex-Machina” – it coming on the heels of Ultron – these films being the most obvious of many, many other extensions of imagination into a world where the counterfeit is, somehow, supposed to be superior to the creator.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None notes “I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”   Science Fiction overrides Nietzsche’s man-into-god routine and forsakes mankind for a world where robots – even if microscopic and unseen by the human eye, are in control.

Where Will Smith had to fight off thousands, and then one, in I Robot, 26 year old Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson – who played Bill Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) is in a modern day catacomb which, despite the trimmings, is as stark as anything in THX1138, the 1971 George Lucas/Francis Ford Coppola classic.   The cat and mouse game – with Caleb as the mouse and both the android, Ava (as in the first letter of the alphabet Eve, or the counterfeit Eve, played well by Alicia Amanda Vikander) and her creator, Nathan Batgeman (Oscar Isaac who played the exiled Outcome operative, Number Three in  2012’s The Bourne Legacy) as the cats, engage in some kind of mind game triangle, just as Jodie Foster, Denzel Washington and Clive Owen did while working out the puzzles throughout Spike Lee’s “Inside Man.”    Isaac and Jeremy Renner had great chemistry in The Bourne Legacy, but here there’s an intentional distance between Bateman and his ten-year junior employee Caleb Smith.   And what’s with yet another use of the name Smith a la the main agent in The Matrix?   Where Renner and Number Three were in the wilds of Alaska when Edward Norton decided he needed to eliminate them,  Bateman and Smith are in a similar claustrophobic retreat filmed in Valldalen (or sometimes just Valldal), Norway.

The internet mogul has a harem of robots, quite predictable for the viewer when they first see Kyoko (the acting debut of Sonoya Mizuno, playing a servant with the name of Yoko Ono’s once-lost daughter, actually said to be a very common name in Japan.)  Caleb Smith seems oblivious to Kyoko’s mechanical history, and Nathan Bateman’s aloof attitude, and descent into alcohol, is the antithesis of Victor Frankenstein, the modern Prometheus.

The lack of strength displayed by the creator of this “wetware” artificial intelligence female robot is odd, a far cry from the Number Three character from the Bourne Legacy, himself – like Renner and Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, a sort of “man into superman.”   Caleb Smith, however, is the key, it is his intuitive mechanical mind that outsmarts Bateman, only to be outsmarted by Ava.

And despite my fondness for this movie, perhaps the most interesting movie since the aforementioned Source Code from Duncan Jones, such a well-constructed concept with an ending straight out of Rod Serling gets an A for effort.  It just could have been so much more.

Where Poltergeist 2015 is a retread that succeeded when it went over the top, and failed when it went over the top it already went over, Ex-Machina fares better.  Yes, it can drive a science fiction fan crazy when the Ultron of the Avengers or Ava from Ex-Machina are plugged into all of cyberspace and with all their logic can’t rule the world instantly. Just a massive crater-like hole in the plot (why not limit their abilities?)  Why give them ALL of the internet and no Sherlock Holmes investigative skills?

Director Garland can be forgiven if he brings Caleb out of the glass cage and has him search for Ava in a sequel.  Ex-Machina begs for one.

Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.