Nothing can ruin a solid, solid movie other than its last act. Plenty of movies have been absolutely destroyed by them, whether it be Repo Men, Knowing, The Village, to name a few. I’m sure if you thought hard enough you’d come up with a list of 10 to 20 in the next couple of minutes. I being a huge movie buff, these kinds of films manage to break my heart all the time. Some more than others. In the case of the new direct to video title ARCHIVE, starring Divergent’s Theo James and Nymphomaniac’s Stacy Martin, it’s only the movie’s very, very last minute reveal (last 3-4 minutes of 1 hr 49 minute run time) that made me groan a little bit. I don’t want to give anything away, but it has an ending similar to one of the three movies I’ve mentioned above. It did a better job of hiding this so called “twist” (even though I knew it was coming and was praying only 10 minutes into it for me to be wrong), but I could still think of a handful of other ways it could’ve ended and been much more satisfactory in a storytelling stand point. The rest of the film is so so good though, and I have a feeling that upon a re-watch this twist might make you see everything in a different kind of light, that I’m ultimately going to give it a decent recommendation. It is a sci-fi drama sort of thriller in the vein of those you might’ve seen before like Moon or I Am Mother, but with much more meaningful undertones. The movie runs along as such a brisk pace even though it intentionally only slowly gives you bits and pieces of information throughout to put together what is going on and doesn’t just spoon feed it to you all at once. It’s very well made, shot, acted, etc. But I don’t think I can ever forgive the last 3-4 minute ending, it’s unfortunately permanently archived in my brain.
Per IMDB, it describes Archive as such: “2038: George Almore (Theo James) is working on a true human-equivalent AI. His latest prototype is almost ready. This sensitive phase is also the riskiest. Especially as he has a goal that must be hidden at all costs: being reunited with his dead wife (Stacy Martin).” For this being a low budget movie, the special effects are top notch. They kept it simple, which is always the healthiest way to go if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a film project. The robots (humans inside of them obviously) look and act realistic, the inside and outside of the lab where George is working on his AI is the perfect display of futuristic dystopian imagery. The make up on the more human looking of these artificial intelligent beings are extremely well done. Theo James easily gives a career best performance (not too hard considering the other bullshit that is on his resume, but still appreciated), Stacy Martin is great, and the direction is crisp, fluid, and engaging. The themes, motifs, and messages are dramatically poignant, especially in this time of our real life isolation because of COVID-19. Everything in this film is near perfect. If it just wasn’t for that damned ending. Fuck, I really want to spoil it so I can vent my frustrations better. But I know that I can figure out a way to relay my true feelings without ruining things if you have any interest whatsoever in discovering what I’m bitching about. The film’s ending unfortunately breaks the Screenplay/Storytelling 101 of what not to do with an ending, because better movies have already done it with much better results.
It is too similar to the ending of a 2 word movie whose last word rhymes with Madder. If you’ve seen the movie I’m alluding to, you know what I’m talking about. That film did it so much better, really the blueprint of what this movie tries to do but kind of fails at the last minute because of how invested we are in everything that came before. But I’m ultimately giving this a solid recommendation, because the 1 hr and 44 minutes before the ending were just too damn good to ignore. It made me think a lot of the movie Moon, by Duncan Jones, and when doing a little more research on Archive, low and behold, its similarity isn’t that surprising. Archive’s director, Gavin Rothery, was part of the art department for Moon. He doesn’t blatantly rip it off, it’s more of an homage, so I’m not going to bitch about how similar they are. Rothery does make it is own and since he has never written or directed anything at all before, I’m absolutely shocked with how much he learned in that department to become as skilled as he is here. Maybe if he can direct a film with a better ending, he could wind up being a masterful sci-fi director like Ridley Scott or Denis Villenueve. He just needs to hone in on his screenplay writing skills, but hey, this is a start and shows lots of potential. This movie is better than 9/10ths of the straight to video shit we are getting because of the pandemic (that 1/10th being Palm Springs), and that ain’t bad. It’s just every time I think about the ending I cringe, just a little bit. It makes me curious if this had any alternate endings, as I would’ve loved to see how other conclusions had worked with the rest of the solid 9/10ths of this film. If there were none, some should’ve been conceived and archived.