Dir/scr. Mateo Gil. Sp-Fr-Be, 2016. 112mins
In the cool, minimalist, soft-spoken world of 2084 - which has some of the soothing yet maddening calm of 1970s science fiction like THX 1138 or Westworld - too-plausible-to-trust scientist Victor West (Barry Ward), head of Project Lazarus, is in charge of the resurrection of Marc Jarvis (Tom Hughes), who committed to cryo-suspension when diagnosed with cancer at an early age seventy-ish years earlier (ie: circa the present day). Shaven-headed and jumpsuited, exactly like the denizens of THX 1138, Marc is nursed by Elizabeth (Charlotte le Bon), who helps him get control of his mostly-reassembled body and sort through his extensive memories.
Though its underlying conservatism harks back to the paranoid medical-tech experiments of the 1960s and 70s, Realive fits in with a recent blip of ubercool Frankensteinian science fiction
The character names which homage Frankenstein and Re-Animator are a sole larkish touch (paralleling similar in-jokery in Splice and The Lazarus Effect) in Spanish writer-director Mateo Gil’s mostly solemn exercise in medical science fiction. Best known as a screenwriter who often works with Alejandro Amenabar (Open Your Eyes, Agora), this is Gil’s second feature as director, following the Western Blackthorn, and is similarly an ambitious fusion of commercial genre (mad science) and personal drama (the medical ethics hark back to Gil’s script for Amenabar’s The Sea Inside).
Well-acted, it lacks the standout performances or star presences which propelled the tonally-similar Ex Machina to more than cult success. While it will play to fans of cerebral science fiction, it may be less grabby for general audiences.
Ostensibly, the plot follows the Frankenstein convention that any great scientific breakthrough will be compromised by hubris. The smoothly unscrupulous West keeps quiet the fact that Marc is only the first successful Lazarus after a string of botched attempts with horrific side-effects (cue an effectively upsetting montage, featuring one great living severed head gag). As he sulks about what he’s lost in the process of sleeping through decades and turns against the project, Marc comes across as consistently selfish and petty, which jibes with flashbacks that establish him as rich and egotistical enough to sign up for the process in the first place.
Hughes is charismatic enough to hold the film together, and it’s perhaps intentional that Marc is so shallow - though the movie would be stronger if he showed more integrity and self-awareness when he becomes a ‘monster’, not less.
Oona Chaplin, still a major movie star in waiting, plays Naomi, Marc’s flashback love interest - who he leaves just as they finally get together. A late-in-the-day development is that Naomi too is frozen - giving West a chance to sell a love story,and keep his project funded, by reviving her too, touching base with the Frankenstein saga as ‘the monster demands a mate’. Yet his thread underlines yet again that Marc is a controlling creep, as he tries to make his girlfriend’s decisions for her.
In a canny example of plot and character determined by budget, the future sections of the film are mostly confined to West’s minimalist clinic. It’s a frustration that Marc has so little curiosity about the world of the future (where sex is a healthy group activity) but it is consistent with his character. Gil is vague about Marc’s art - he has a commercial firm with many employees but also a big gallery retrospective, and the plot requires him to have made enough money to buy possible immortality - and oddly misses a trick; surely, the only thing someone like Marc would be interested in would be whether he’s still famous in the future and how much his paintings sell for?
Though its underlying conservatism harks back to the paranoid medical-tech experiments of the 1960s and 70s (Charly, The Mind of Mr Soames, The Terminal Man), Realive fits in with a recent blip of ubercool Frankensteinian science fiction (The Machine, Evolution, the TV series Humans) and makes good, sparing use of CGI to convey laboratory miracles.
Production Companies: Arcadia Motion Pictures, Achaman Films AIE, Canal+ Espana, Noodles Production, Scope Pictures, Television Espanola
Sales: SC Films International
Producers: Ibon Cormenzana, Ignasi Estape
Executive Producer: Genevieve Lemal
Cinematography: Pau Esteve Birba
Editor: Guillermo de la Cal
Music: Lucas Vidal
Production Designer< Alain Bainee
Main cast Tom Hughes, Charlotte Le Bon, Oona Chaplin, Barry Ward, Julio Perillan, Rafael Cebrian, Bruno Sevilla, Daniel Horvath