Have you read The Beach (1996)?
I read it in sixth form a couple of years after it came out and remember it going through our year like fire. It was a zeitgeist thing, with it’s blend of backpacking and movies, and a cracking read that grabbed you and then unleashed itself just as it started to lull (the lull was just as important). Then, after The Beach got it’s own adaptation, we got 28 Days Later… (2002). Sunshine (2007). Never Let Me Go (2010). Dredd (2012). All killer, no filler etc.
Ex Machina is more of the same intelligent, provocative, menacing sci-fi. It’s got a script that doesn’t treat you like an idiot by drowning everything in exposition and over explanation, and if it’s limited cast and locations give it a TV feel it’s only because Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror (2011 – ) series, with which it shares many common interests, is so cinematic. In typical Garland fashion the film does go where you expect it to but the joy is found in the well placed ideas and the way in which we reach the tipping point.
The cast is uniformly great but Oscar Isaac still stands out.