Gavin Rothery’s feature directorial debut is a science fiction story well worth seeking out – here’s our review.
Mention Moon to any sci-fi fan, and expectations rise immediately. Not that Archive comes from director Duncan Jones, rather from perhaps the next best person if comparisons are to be drawn: the director’s close mate and Moon designer, Gavin Rothery. For his feature film debut as both writer and director, he delivers a movie that, while taking us to familiar territory, has a contemporary resonance that few could have predicted when it was being made.
In the near future, George (Theo James) has taken a new job, reviving a remote research facility while, unbeknown to his employers, also working on a personal, artificial intelligence project. He’s already created two robots, the second more advanced than the first, but number three promises to be the culmination of his efforts and one which will fill a gaping void in his life. The problem is, he needs to conceal it from the company at all costs.
Rothery’s involvement in Moon is heavily reflected here, from the fundamental idea of a solitary man in a hi-tech, soulless environment to the design of his home, which produces shapes and images echoing the director’s earlier work, and that of others. It’s hard to escape the film’s many influences, with The Shining and Solaris at the top of the narrative pile, as the painfully lonely George, unable to cope without his dead wife, is trying to recreate her and those prototypes are steps on his road to rediscovering his perfect companion.
The first of his creations is a lumbering, gentle giant, essentially a young child who can’t speak, while the second represents a clingy, emotionally demanding teenager. Both, however, are unmistakably robots, but number three is infinitely more humanoid and conventionally attractive.
That the second prototype is something of a Frankenstein’s monster, with the power to destroy everything, gives the film a predictable air. However, Rothery still manages to introduce some originality – especially in a denouement that will make you sit bolt upright. The cinematography is arresting in the way it drains the colour from the screen, making good use of the stark lights inside the research establishment and the near monochrome of the surrounding icy landscape.
As George, Theo James is suitably tight-lipped, relying on the film’s flashbacks to give him an emotional backstory, and firmly establishing that it is one that means he’ll stop at nothing to bring back his wife, regardless of the cost.
Though the filmmaker insists that the movie was conceived before an obvious comparison, Ex Machina, the over-familiar and the innovative go head-to-head in the film, making for a perplexing and not always comfortable mix. Inconsistencies and questions insist on lingering in your mind, yet the strong visuals and the pangs of solitude – something many of us have had to experience in recent months – have an undeniable power to affect, right now of all moments. All the more so, when you know the setting is less than 20 years away…
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