Writer/director Nick Szostakiwskyj officially became “one to watch” after exploding onto the scene with 2016’s Black Mountain Side–and that’s not always the easiest position to be in. After all, once you reach the top, there’s really only one direction to go. You can even make the argument that his new film, Archons, serves as a commentary on this all-too-familiar scenario. Sled Dog, the fictional rock band that Archons revolves around, peaked early in their career and were never able to recapture what made their breakout track so successful. Lucky for Szostakiwskyj, he not only lives up to the expectation created by Black Mountain Side, he arguably surpasses it.
While undeniably rough around the edges, Archons is an absolute pleasure to look at. Cameron Tremblay serves as Director of Photography (as he did on Black Mountain Side), and his decision to shoot wide isn’t only unconventional in the indie horror space, its downright intelligent given the beauty of the team’s filming location. But while the scenery makes for some truly compelling photography, it brought along technical challenges that clearly impacted the final product. Stagnant, wide coverage shots are often times the only look we get, and that’s a shame given how clever some of the sequences were in Black Mountain Side. From what I understand, the amount of shots on any given day were greatly reduced due to the difficulty of shooting on the water. It’s understandable, but disappointing nonetheless. That said, press the pause button at virtually any time, and you’re likely to land on a gorgeous frame.
Narratively speaking, it’s all relatively easy to follow. The woefully past its prime rock band, Sled Dog, is hitting the open water with a handful of psychedelics in order to work on some new material. While floating, they bump into a fan that decides to join them on their journey, but she’s not the only unexpected tag-along that the band is set to encounter. Seemingly staggering behind every downed tree branch lurks something darker, but similar to Black Mountain Side, viewers will be called upon to draw a lot of their own conclusions. In stark contrast to the opposition faced in that film, however, the threat in Archons receives plenty of screen time–even if more restraint might have ultimately been beneficial.
With that said, the effects (which are all practical) look fantastic. We’re talking about full-body creatures, bursting heads, mauled bodies, and more. Szostakiwskyj once again finds clever ways to satiate the audience’s bloodlust in a grounded and, dare I say, realistic way. The violence in Archons has weight to it, and that matters. Interestingly enough, that violence is supplemented by a surprising sense of humor. It’s by no means a horror comedy, but it packs some genuine laughs into an otherwise horrible situation. It’s also worth mentioning the strength of the audio mix and sound effects. Dialogue sounds great, which isn’t exactly surprising given Szostakiwskyj’s background with audio, and sound effects. Accompanying audio sounds rich and full even on high-end audio setups.
With Archons, Szostakiwskyj swings well above his budget, but his risks pay off more often than not. Short of the technical limitations and complications imposed by the location, and a stylistic decision that I’ll avoid naming for the sake of spoilers, Archons has a lot to offer. It’s the kind of film that rewards repeat viewings and tickles the curiosity of those that enjoy decoding the more nuanced aspects of film. I can think of three supported interpretations of the events that transpire, and I bet you’ll be able to do the same–if not more. It’s the type of movie that can easily be taken at face value but is infinitely more rewarding if you allow yourself to dig deeper. Googling the word “Archon” is a start. Definitely do that.
Archons is currently available on digital platforms, and it’s an easy recommend if you’re into monsters, practical effects, drugs, and beautiful scenery. And let’s be honest, who isn’t? Check it out, and let us know what you think.