I’m finding it hard to catch my breath. Part of that is due to my inability to trudge more than a few metres through shin-high snow, without falling face-first into the fluffy stuff. But it’s my jaw, which is stuck permanently to the floor, that’s really troubling the oxygen intake. Valldal’s ice-capped mountain range, glacial-blue rushing ravine and wood and glass pods are demanding my attention.
The Juvet Landscape Hotel, where Ex Machina was filmed, is naturally cinematic. This stunning blend of ground-breaking urban architecture and IMAX-scale scenery must have come in handy when it was used as the backdrop for this year’s smartest and most stylish sci-fi, directed by Alex Garland (of The Beach, 28 Days Later and Sunshine writing fame).
Starring three of Hollywood’s hottest up-and-comers (Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, soon to be seen in Star Wars: Episode VII, and Alicia Vikander, currently hoovering up award nominations for her turn as Vera Brittain in Testament of Youth), Ex Machina tells the tale of a reclusive tech genius Nathan (Isaac) who recruits employee Caleb (Gleeson) to visit him in his isolated Alaskan retreat and act as the human component in a Turing test that could well be the next step in the evolution of artificial intelligence; a humanoid named Ava (Vikander).
It’s somewhat fitting that a movie all about false perception should pick the Juvet Landscape Hotel. For one thing, it’s definitely not in Alaska.
Located on a stretch of mountain road between Trollstigen and Geiranger, and a stone’s throw from the West Norwegian Fjords, the hotel’s real owner (Knut Slinning) has transformed a crumbling farmhouse and its increasingly dilapidated 19th century-built outhouses into a modern architectural marvel with the aid of renowned architects Jensen & Skodvin.
My room is camouflaged in the woodland ahead of me. As we step up to the sleek pod design and heft back its thick, wooden door, a Pavlovian alarm bell goes off in my head. It’s the exact same door that Caleb closes behind him as he steps into Nathan’s home.
Thankfully, we don’t end up in web of psychological warfare but a room of floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the Valldola River. No blinds or curtains, and a dark all-wood interior, it offers an unparalleled connection to nature. Each self-contained room was built to exist within its surroundings, and every pod is unique to its topography and guarantees unadulterated privacy.
We dump our bags, melt into the room’s one-of-a-kind recliners, survey the serene landscape, and instantly relate to Caleb’s overawed reaction to the place. But, while Ex Machina’s exteriors are almost entirely shot in and around Valldal, the movie’s interiors are a blend of Pinewood Studio-built sets, Juvet’s pods and spa and another multi-million pound retreat (also built by Jensen & Skodvin, located one valley over).
Enjoying the spa’s steam room, open fireplace, and outdoor hot tub, my mind segues into Ex Machina’s similarly located, psychologically terse scenes. I sit in the toasty, steaming waters of an outdoor jacuzzi with beer in hand, stare up at the sparkling night sky and marvel at the disparity.
As the night ebbs away with local legends of trolls, starry guests who have frequented the farm (he had to turn down Bruno Mars, it’s that popular), the region’s cinematic legacy (nearby Geirangerfjord was used as the inspiration for Disney’s Frozen), and rural skiing, hiking and rock climbing adventures, we can’t help but wonder at the difference between movie and actuality. The reality feels more ‘movie magical’ than the beautiful, stylish sci-fi that lured me here in the first place.
You can travel from London Gatwick to Alesund from £34.90 one way with Norwegian Air. You can stay at Juvet Landscape Hotel from £124 per person, including breakfast. Or visit Norway with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details
Ex Machina is in UK cinemas now.