‘Archive’ Review: Dir. Gavin Rothery [Best of 2021]

If you’re a fan of edgy and cerebral science-fiction with some noir flourishes, Archive is a film that you must not miss. It stars Theo James as George Almore, an accomplished engineer who works in seclusion, developing a true human-equivalent AI. With two rudimentary prototypes already built and living alongside him, his third is almost ready. This new version is radically more advanced than its kin, and once booted up it begins to cause frictions; it then isn’t long before George’s world becomes unstuck. 

Gavin Rothery combines his history of animation, art, and visual effects with a brilliantly thought up idea to create a super original story that takes the viewer on an unanticipated journey. The script is tight and intricate, and despite only really seeing the interior and grounds of George’s facility, Rothery has created a rich world that feels entirely whole. This realness of the environment into which the story is placed helps the audience separate from their actual reality and invest completely in what Rothery has on the screen. There are so many issues and themes open for exploration and investment that the viewer can revisit again and again with the potential to view the film from a brand new perspective. 

The story, despite only featuring one main human character, is complex and compelling, venturing into places that, no matter how you try, you won’t see coming. It’s such fantastic work from Rothery, managing to pull off the ultimate magic trick with his narrative choices. One of his many talents displayed within his writing is his ability to pack his non-human characters full of humanity and empathy, so much so that, in comparison, George is the one that feels like an emotionless machine. It’s a clever tactic and one that messes with our perceptions of right, wrong, good and bad, and leads us to question just who or what we should be siding with. Spending so much of the film alone, Theo James does a remarkable job of keeping the audience’s focus. George isn’t an easy character to connect with, but James ensures that the viewer never switches off from him. The work of his co-star Stacy Martin, also deserves mentioning. Martin’s work is mainly done through vocals, and she crafts several incarnations of the same character, all of whom feel whole and worthy of our emotional investment.  

Visually, science-fiction movies tend to fall into one of two categories: they are either super dark, gritty and grimy, or they are sterile, white, and hi-tech. Archive falls into the latter, Rothery keeping the colours bright white and metallic greys. The non-human characters are beautiful to behold and may induce a heartbreak or two as they progress along their journeys. George’s working world is also a feast for a tech nerd’s eyes, and its slick and stylish nature are sure to excite those like Rothery with a passion for the genre. Rothery himself is no stranger to the world of science-fiction, having previously helped Duncan Jones on Moon, and his love of the genre is clear in every scene. Comparisons may be drawn to Jones’ film, as well as to Ex Machina, but Archive is very much its own entity with its own unique identity. 

A modern era, noir tinged, science-fiction featuring some of the most emotionally engaging non-human characters the genre has ever seen, Archive also houses an incredibly complex story, making it one of the absolute best science fiction films in years.  

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Archive is available to own now.

This review first appeared on THN.