Archive review – anyone for a posthuman wife? She comes with an off switch

A lonely computer scientist in the year 2038 secretly works on an android version of his wife who died in a car crash – is it romantic, or something more sinister?

British illustrator and visual-effects director Gavin Rothery makes his feature debut with this artificial intelligence thriller: a tale of love, death and robotics that has some nicely creepy moments. Set in 2038, it centres on lonely computer scientist George Almore (Divergent’s Theo James), who is holed up in a remote research facility in Japan secretly working on an android version of his wife Jules (Stacy Martin); she has died in a car crash. His prototype, J3 (also played by Martin), is his closest yet to the real thing: a highly advanced humanoid with spookily pale skin who looks like she might be the ghost of his dead wife. Poor old J1 and J2, his earlier, clunkier prototypes: they look on bitterly as the newer, sleeker model gets all George’s attention.

The movie opens with sweeping helicopter shots over a snowy forest. Inside the concrete bunker-like facility, Rothery works wonders with a modest budget (he was behind the look of Duncan Jones’s Moon), creating an ungimmicky nearish future that looks a lot like today. When George’s corporate bosses threaten to pull the plug on his research, he hurries to put the finishing touches to J3 – a task involving the contents of a fridge-like archive unit containing his dead wife’s consciousness. George is surrounded by the robot versions of Jules. J1 is boxy, non-verbal and baby-like. J2 is a little more advanced: she can speak, and behaves like a teenager, huffing jealously when George removes her legs to give to J3.

In the end, George is playing God – creating a woman not from a rib but electrical components and computer programming. The script’s take on this is romantic: here is a man who’ll do whatever it takes to be reunited with his wife. I couldn’t help finding it a bit more sinister; when J2 misbehaves, George orders her back to her docking station. He is in control. (Anyone for a posthuman wife? She comes with an off switch.) And the final ta-da revelation felt a bit contrived. Still, Archive is refreshingly non-cerebral – and that’s a compliment. It’s a sci-fi movie that wants to entertain, not deliver a lecture on AI.

• On digital formats from 18 January.

Contributor

Cath Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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