Synopsis – 2038: George Almore is working on a true human-equivalent AI. His latest prototype is almost ready. This sensitive phase is also the riskiest. Especially as he has a goal that must be hidden at all costs: being reunited with his dead wife.
My Take – Honestly I didn’t have much expectations going into this one after all how many times can you witness familiar science fiction tropes about a man trying to reunite with his dead wife with the help of technology? Plus the casting didn’t excite me either as both Theo James (known for starring in the Divergent and Underworld series) and Stacy Martin (Nymphomaniac: Volume 1) aren’t exactly known to possess a proficient filmography.
Nonetheless, I am mighty glad that I did end up giving this one a watch, mainly due to the current lack of excitable content online. While the film, as I had predicted, isn’t exactly original, and doesn’t quite jell into anything brilliant or profound, nonetheless, first time writer-director Gavin Rothery‘s elegant execution makes it quite a fresh experience, as he has chosen his ingredients with care and blended them with style.
Sure, it is a bit slow for 105 minutes, but director Rothery‘s added experience and eye that he has developed over the years as a production design and visual effect supervisor (2009’s Moon), along with his lifetime love of the genre has conjured up a great looking film with some heart, a neat twist or two making it enjoyably watchable from start to finish.
Set in 2038, the story follows George Almore (Theo James), a robotics engineer, who now two and a half years into his three year research contract, is finally on the verge of a breakthrough. Stationed alone halfway up a snow-capped mountain near Kyoto at a secret facility code named ‘The Garden’, he has been working on a model that is a true human-equivalent android.
While his first two prototypes J1 and J2 (voiced by Stacy Martin) were successful, they left room for improvement. But his third prototype, J3, is his most human-like to date and George believes that his research may finally lead to the scientific breakthrough he’s been working so diligently for. But his employers, Artisan Robotics and Simone (Rhona Mitra), VP of Internal Development, are in dark of his covert undertaking, even though they enabled it.
Some time ago they had provided George with their newly developed device, which allowed individuals to stay in contact with the deceased for a limited amount of time. And now George intends to bring his late wife Jules (Stacy Martin) back from the dead by sending her archived conscious into his latest model, before she disappears forever or is taken over by the company.
From the very beginning the film reminded me of a Black Mirror episode as it has you speculating about everything. Yet despite being visually and tonally reminiscent of numerous other works, the film manages to establish its own identity with a self-contained story exploring one primary idea that death is not the end of life.
For a comparatively small budget sci-fi like this one, it is the writing that makes or breaks the film, especially when it is completely devoid of any action sequences to distract us, however, here, the film takes an absolutely realistic approach by focusing on the sense of loss, which is presented to us in the form of George’s thoughts and memories, which mostly consist of his dead wife, whom he’ll never get over losing.
Thankfully the film is not completely depressing as one would expect, as George’s unfinished robots are key to the film’s charm, as they can be touchingly funny one moment and break your heart the next.
J2 is easily the most entertaining of the three with her blunt but humorous responses, descriptions of the dreams she’s having, and her fascination with old black and white cartoons. While George views his creations as a type of family referring to them as sisters, but he doesn’t seem to grasp the concept that they’re all in love with him much like his wife. J2 sees J3 as an upgraded replacement; a model that is better than her and her sister.
Between the drama of J2’s jealousy and J3’s crisis, the film is also stunning visual feast. The visuals of the film are so gorgeously rich. George’s research facility is out in the middle of nowhere in some secluded woods during the middle of winter. There’s constant snow and the slight roar from a nearby waterfall that make isolation seem dreamlike. From set design to cinematography, the film is a top-notch production, and should act as career bumps for cinematographer Laurie Rose and composer Steven Price.
Not the least, writer and director Rothery himself for coming up with a pretty great plot twist in the climax that you will never see coming your way.
Of course there are minor faults here. The pacing for one does force one to think if the film is about 20 min too long, and could do away sudden somber shots in the 2nd act of the film which add nothing to the overall story. Plus, the design of J3, though exceptional, never looks like a robot in her final form. I don’t know how it could have been done differently, mind you; and the psychological drama is more important than the science-fiction element in that respect, but it did mess with my suspension of disbelief slightly.
Acting wise, Theo James (also a producer here) continues to make his case for why he can be a solid leading-man provided he be given the right material. This one here is probably his most emotional performance yet. Though, Stacy Martin doesn’t have exactly much to do here, she manages to bring different kinds of energy to her two separate roles. In smaller roles, Rhona Mitra, Toby Jones, Peter Ferdinando and Richard Glover are alright. On the whole, ‘Archive’ is a very moody yet watchable sci-fi thriller that makes for a wonderfully vibrant and expertly captivating directorial debut for Gavin Rothery.
Directed – Gavin Rothery
Rated – NR
Run Time – 105 minutes