Archive is a lame rehash of half a century’s worth of sci-fi tropes.
The new futuristic thriller Archive is aptly titled, as it feels like a pastiche of every major sci-fi film of the past four decades. While writer-director Gavin Rothery — making his feature debut here — would undoubtedly love to hear his work uttered in the same breath as Blade Runner or Ex Machina, the one film it ultimately most resembles is Replicas, the dumb-as-a-doorknob Keanu Reeves-starrer from 2019 that is most memorable for being so unmemorable. But while that film proved to be a diverting bit of enjoyable trash, I’ve seen Holocaust documentaries less self-serious and dour than the tone that the inert Archive musters. The only thing Rothery’s film has going for it is its impressive technical specs, particularly praise-worthy given its low-budget origins — it actually looks better than a lot of the bloated spectacles Hollywood regularly churns out. In fact, Rothery worked as an art department head on several major productions, one of which his latest owes a huge debt: 2009’s Moon. The films are narratively similar, as Archive concerns a scientist (Theo James, in an unremarkable performance) who has been sent to a remote outpost in the Japanese wilderness to update its security specs, but has instead spent his time alone perfecting his A.I. prototypes. This could have something to do with the recent death of his wife, who he is still able to converse with thanks to the titular technology that uploads the deceased’s consciousness temporarily into a machine. While it would be easy to dismiss that plot point as mind-numbingly stupid, plenty of successful science fiction flicks have built intriguing stories on foundations far less sturdy.
Rather, the problem with Archive is that Rothery is far more concerned with surfaces than the inner turmoil of his central figure. 20 minutes of the film’s 110-minute runtime is devoted to exterior aerial shots of the security complex, its clean lines and smooth surfaces juxtaposed with the jagged rocky exterior of the mountain on which it sits, water rushing and falling over its glorious crags with an intensity that the rest of this film can barely muster. The metaphor — technology vs. nature, the biological and the mechanical forever at odds — is an obvious one but one that could have still worked had it not been handled such a heavy hand. Archive is a movie where, at one point, a robot goes full Virginia Woolf and solemnly drowns itself in a river, at which point the filmmakers seem to expect the audience to respond with emotion rather than laughter. Unable to find the “body,” the robot’s belongings are buried instead, like some WWII soldier forever lost at sea. The film saves its big guns, though, for a twist ending that undoes everything that came before it. To the film’s credit, the ending does prove genuinely surprising. The problem, then, is that this climax is so stupid and the rest of the film so incapable of generating any interest that the only thing left to focus on is the amount time remaining until the end credits. It’s safe to say there is no need to archive this one.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | July 2020.