The general consensus of fantasy fiction is that nearly everyone wants to live forever, but most of those who actually get that wish fulfilled end up wishing they hadn’t. Such is the case in “Realive,” prominent Spanish scenarist Mateo Gil’s third directorial feature. This smoothly crafted English-language sci-fi tale finds a modern man cryogenically frozen, then thawed seven decades into the future as humanity’s first successful “reanimate.” But his subsequent disillusionment isn’t as moving as it’s meant to be here, primarily because Gil hasn’t created a protagonist with enough personality to seem particularly relatable, or to render his regret after getting what he thought he wanted more profound than petulant.
Those who welcome thinkier SF cinema in the realm of recent “Ex-Machina” and “Another Earth” will find some similar rewards in this watchable, nicely produced if modestly scaled English-language enterprise, which straddles select thematic terrain from Gil’s Alejandro Amenábar-directed hits “Open Your Eyes” and “The Sea Inside.” But enthusiasm is likely to be more reserved for a film that ultimately feels handsome yet as emotionally antiseptic, as its clean white futurist decor, which recalls such 1970s sci-fi cult favorites as “THX-1138” and “The Terminal Man.” But those films were actually about alienation, whereas “Realive” ultimately aims to be all about matters of the heart, and in that realm Gil’s imagination proves disappointingly limited.
In the here-and-now, Marc Jarvis (Tom Hughes) is a successful artist of some sort (we glean that he has a commercial graphics firm, and also gets his own museum retrospective, but what he actually does is one defining detail among many left blank here), finally settled into domestic bliss with longtime on-again, off-again girlfriend Naomi (Oona Chaplin). Thus it’s simply unacceptable when, at age 32, he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer and told he has little more than a year to live. His solution is to end his life even earlier, sans chemotherapy and before the disease can advance further, in the hopes that medical science will some day allow resuscitation of his still-youthful body and mind.
Which is exactly what happens in 2084, when “Project Lazarus” finally bears fruit, allowing Prodigy Health Corporation’s to make good on its advertised claim of being “the world’s most successful regeneration program.” In fact Marc is the first person to emerge from his cryo-tube and fulfill that promise, to the immense excitement of presiding Dr. West (Barry Ward) and his team. That he’s terribly weak and in pain at first is no surprise to them, though it’s surely dismaying to Marc. As compensating distraction he’s assigned nurse Elizabeth (Charlotte Le Bon), who’s tasked with serving both his physical and emotional needs — including (once he’s strong enough) sex, which she notes is now (in the great tradition of “Barbarella” and “Sleeper”) a social function no longer much tied to antiquated notions of love and relationships.
Alas, Marc pines for something more — to be precise, for Naomi, who it turns out also had herself cryogenically frozen (albeit at a considerably later age). There would appear to be an obvious happily-ever-after solution for all concerned. Yet even as his general health improves, so does Marc’s discontent.
Lacking any real suspense element despite explicit “Frankenstein” references, “Realive” becomes a curiously under-motivated if divertingly conceived and packaged drama about a character who rejects the immortality he thought he desired because … well, just cuz. Pretty as a young Cillian Murphy (even, or perhaps especially, with his head shaved), Hughes’ hero is a passive, sulky outline that Gil’s screenplay does very little to fill in. Some murky technological advance called “memory writing” allows us to glimpse Marc’s pre-cryo-tank past, but all that reveals is a series of fancily edited Kodak moments: First Kiss, a career peak or two, TV-commercial-like Good Times With Good Friends, etc. True love Naomi hardly gets any dialogue, and it’s laughably simple that their relationship woes are defined by Marc’s voiceover narration as, “When I was ready to commit, she wasn’t, and vice versa.” (Perhaps Gil thinks his characters need to be this bland, whether as Americans and/or to appeal to the American market.)
That’s as much psychological depth as “Realive” can be bothered with. It’s not enough to explain why our hero takes great offense at discovering there were other, less successful “reanimation” prototypes before him. (Did he imagine there wouldn’t be?). Nor does it satisfy nearly enough to justify Gil’s near-complete disinterest in explaining just what has happened to human society and the planet in general within the last 70 or so years. There’s plot (and budgetary) logic to why frail Marc remains confined to the sleek, rather drily institutional Prodigy corporate compound during the narrative’s cutely, unnecessarily chaptered course. But why isn’t he more curious about the outside world?
In his first feature effort as writer-director since 1999’s “Nobody Knows Anybody” (his 2011 Western drama “Blackthorn” was written by Miguel Barros), Gil demonstrates a graceful assurance orchestrating “Realive’s” design and technical elements. Results are resourcefully handsome on a purported $7 million budget, though some may be disappointed that the future pretty much looks like a high-end plastic surgery retreat-cum-health spa.