Review: Archive

Year: 2020
Runtime: 105 Minutes 
Writer/Director: Gavin Rothery
Stars: Theo James, Stacy Martin, Rhona Mitra, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover and Toby Jones

By Bianca Garner

“Archive” is the feature debut film from writer/director Gavin Rothery, a name you may recognise from his work on the Duncan Jones sci-fi film “Moon” as well as his concept art for several big named video games. Rothery has an eye for detail and a passion for world building, and we certainly see this on full display in “Archive”, a film so immersive and dense in detail that you can’t help but allow yourself to become pulled into this world. 

“Archive” is in a lot of ways it’s own futuristic take on the “ The Bride of Frankenstein” with a dash of “Phantom Thread” meets “Bladerunner”, a dazzling cocktail of sci-fi meets horror meets psychological thriller and relationship drama. A tragic study into what it means to be human, and our perverse obsession to play God. It proposes big questions, such as ‘what would we do for love’ and ‘how would an A.I. react if it became fully sentient’; these big questions leave us with much to ponder well after the credits have rolled. Sci-fi films in recent years seem to have overlooked this aspect of science-fiction, that ultimately a good sci-fi story is one that connects with us on a human level. 

The year is 2038. George Almore (played by the wonderful Theo James) is working on a true human-equivalent AI. His latest prototype is almost ready, but he has made two already named J1 and J2 (voiced by Stacy Martin). Unlike his latest prototype (known as J3, also played by Martin), J1 has the ‘mental’ age of a six-year-old, and is a big clunky machine deprived of arms. J2 is a little more mature, as George states she’s more like a sixteen-year-old and is slightly more mobile. She certainly seems conscious of what’s going on and becoming more and more sentient as time passes. 

Theo James in “Archive” (2020) Copyright: Vertical Entertainment

“Rothery has an eye for detail and a passion for world building, and we certainly see this on full display in “Archive”, a film so immersive and dense in detail.”

The reason for George’s work is that he’s trying to become reunited with his dead wife, whose consciousness is being stored in something known as the ‘archive’. However, George’s work has attracted trouble from the outside, and when two visitors from the archive company pop by for a visit, he realises that time is running out.

What’s so intriguing about “Archive” is it’s four main characters, George, J2, J3 and George’s wife Jules (also played by the magnificent Martin) and their complex relationship with each other. J2 and J3 become more human than the actual human beings we see in the film, with their own unique personalities, characteristics and traits. J2 is by far one of the most well-developed characters I have seen depicted in film this year, we empathise and connect with her even though she’s a machine. Her character journey is one rooted in deep sadness and pain as she slowly comes to terms with the idea of being replaced by J3. 

Stacy Martin in “Archive” (2020) Copyright: Vertical Entertainment

“Martin is on top form here. Her ability to play multiple characters who are similar but all have their own unique personalities, is something to be praised.”

The character of George is also fascinating. Theo James presents us with a flawed genius who knows that what he is doing is questionable, we see him wrestling with the moral dilemma throughout the film but he’s so blinded by his love for Jules that he seems reluctant to stop (perhaps he can’t stop even if he tried). George isn’t exactly the bad guy, in fact, there are no real antagonists in this film with our opinion of the different characters evolving and shifting throughout the course of the film. Rothery keeps us guessing in terms of who to trust and what will happen, that it’s a delight to have a twist at the end that you didn’t expect.

Martin is on top form here. Her ability to play multiple characters who are similar but all have their own unique personalities, is something to be praised. Both James and Martin shine in their roles and they have great chemistry. “Archive” never crosses the line, even though it reaches certain inevitable plot points, however, Rothery is a clever storyteller who keeps us on our toes. In less than capable hands, “Archive” could have slipped into dangerous full-on Male Gaze territory but Rothery shows tremendous restraint and respect for the characters and the story he’s telling.

Theo James in “Archive” (2020) Copyright: Vertical Entertainment

“Archive” is visually stunning and beautifully shot by cinematographer Laurie Rose, whose work you may recognise from “Kill List”, “High Rise” (which coincidentally Martin starred in) and “Overlord”. The use of lights and shadows helps to create a feel of tension and suspense, as well as adding another layer to the rundown complex where George inhabits with his three A.I. companions. The film’s score by Steven Price is also noteworthy, and really helps to set the futuristic mood and is entwined with the emotions of the characters. There is also a wonderful supporting cast consisting of the likes of Rhona Mitra, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover and Toby Jones.

“Archive” does suffer from some pacing issues and some very confusing subplots with some of the side characters being slightly underdeveloped. Still, this is a very visually impressive film that is worth seeking out. I can’t wait to see what complex interesting worlds and characters, Rothery explores next.

Available in Theaters, On Demand and Digital on July 10, 2020

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