Archive Review: A Calculated, Futuristic Treasure

Written and directed by Gavin Rothery, the sci-fi film Archive is reminiscent of Duncan Jones 2009 film Moon. Its main character willingly immerses himself in isolation and its crisp and vivid visuals instantly remind you of Moon, which Rothery worked on as a conceptual designer and as head of the graphic design department for the film.

Over a decade later, Archive is Rothery’s debut as a director with a film.

The story of Archive was inspired by Rothery’s home computers both dying at the same time. Both computers included all of Rothery’s life’s work on its hard drives.

Some of it was salvageable, but some of it was lost forever. What would inspire two computers to just ride off into the technological sunset at the same time? Were the two computers communicating and was dying a choice they both made? This is what Rothery claims was the inspiration for the story of George and Jules Almore.

In 2038, George Almore (Theo James, the Divergent series) has been developing an accurate human-equivalent AI. While his first two prototypes were successful, they left room for improvement.

His third prototype 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. George intends to bring his wife Jules (Stacy Martin, Nymphomaniac: Vol. I) back from the dead in the most literal and physical way possible.

One of the main concepts of Archive is that this company George works for (it’s referred to as The Archive Company) has developed a way for individuals to stay in contact with the deceased for a limited amount of time.

They can basically receive phone calls from the consciousness of the deceased until this predetermined expiration date occurs. George is trying to create an artificial version of his wife before she disappears forever.

George’s prototypes also vary in maturity. The three prototypes are referred to as J1, J2, and J3 with J1 being big and clunky with the mind of a child, J2 being a bit more refined and agile with the mind of a teenager, and J3 being almost an exact duplicate of the adult Jules.

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.

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.

Archive is purposely slow paced. The film thrives on dialogue that is mostly between a man and two androids/cyborgs in the first half of the film. It’s R-rated, but it’s solely adult because of the language in the film. The violence is minimal and there’s no nudity whatsoever.

What’s interesting is that besides Moon, Gavin Rothery lets his inspirations take the wheel whenever he sees fit. J3’s full body creation, with legs, hair, and skin, is an obvious homage to the shelling sequence from the opening of Ghost in the Shell.

Archive pays particular attention to the details involved in creating artificial life like what makes them tick on the inside that seem directly influenced by Shirow Masamune’s work as a whole.

The visuals of Archive 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.

Archive makes the future feel clean and slick and flawless. George is seen venturing out into the city at one point in the film and its dazzling use of colors are very Blade Runner-esque with drastic lighting in unusual shades like neon yellow and bright green.

This is the type of film that is made or broken by its writing. You wouldn’t be wrong in saying that there’s no action in Archive. The film is mostly a representation of George’s thoughts and memories with pieces of his dead wife lying around reminding him of something and someone he’ll never get over losing.

The film is absolutely realistic when it comes to its sense of loss, but it’s driven by this fantastical concept of using technology to raise the dead and a not too distant future where science has evolved to a point where this is achievable.

Stacy Martin as J3.

Some of the best moments of Archive are when there are no words at all. J2 is often seen outside by a lake or staring at a waterfall (George is constantly telling J1 and J2 that they shouldn’t get wet) and all you have is Steven Price’s brilliantly moody score to give you ambience.

It’s a thought provoking film that is undeniably intriguing, but it’s also masterful with what it pulls in its unexpected ending.

The Verdict

Archive isn’t going to be a film for everyone. A film about isolation right after quarantine and during a pandemic may not sound appealing to the general population, but Archive is such a visually superb experience with subtle humor that keeps you interested and downright shocks in its final moments. I would love to see something a bit more exciting from Gavin Rothery in the future, but in the meantime, Archive is this wonderfully vibrant and expertly captivating debut from a first time director with a ton of potential.

Archive will be released in Virtual Cinema Screenings, On Demand, and Digitally Friday, July 10.

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