‘I want the diagnostics driving the design,’ is the kind of techno babble you hope for and expect from a futuristic thriller, and writer/director Gavin Rothery comes up with acres of it in Archive, a low-budget, big ideas sci-fi thriller which does a great job of exploring familiar ideas with a new-fangled approach. Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina is the obvious point of comparison, with elements of Moon, Interstellar and Blade Runner; if you like any two from the above list, then Archive is going to be well worth the rental fee.
Theo James brings his ersatz Hemsworth energy to the role of George Almore, a scientist dabbling with AI in a remote work-station in Japan. He’s tormented by his memory of his wife’s death in a car crash, and although he has a couple of female-voiced robots doing his bidding, he’s also tinkering with a potential female form, Metropolis-style, into which he can place his wife’s archived soul. Of course, this isn’t exactly what Almore is meant to be working on, and his bosses at the Archive company (Rhona Mitra, Toby Jones) are keen to find out what George is up to, and put a stop to his experimental attempts to raise the dead.
Genre fans will find plenty to dig here; Almore’s genial relationship to his robot pals has echoes of Silent Running, while the storyline harks back to both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Stacy Martin has a few short but telling moments as Almore’s wife Jules, and manages to make something three-dimensional and defiantly human about her, crucial as a few twists require real audience involvement to land. Although the (largely) single location makes this firmly a cousin of Ex-Machina’s domestic breakdown, this also fits into the Blade Runner universe, with a similar portrait of male loss and loneliness, well played by James.
Archive has some really haunting visuals, plus a great production design that echoes the influential work of Ralph McQuarrie; the fish-tank screen savers are smart, and Rothery makes a similar call to Chris Nolan in Interstellar by making his robots defiantly ugly but functional; there’s a pathos in these clumsy designs. While the narrative slips away at certain points, and there are a few lapses of narrative momentum, this is a four star movie, short on action, but thoughtful and well-achieved; those seeking their fix of brainy sci-fi should apply to Archive now.
Archive hits streaming services in the UK from Jan 15th 2021.
Thanks to NBCUniversal for advance access to this film.