The Archer launches into establishing its heroine right out of the gate, as we meet Lauren Pierce (Bailey Noble) just as she salvages her high-school archery team’s chances as undefeated victory. An expert marksman with intelligence and hubris, Lauren has a near-established future. Until – in defense of her best friend and secret crush – she assaults another teen and lands herself in front of a judge with a zero tolerance policy.
Lauren finds herself sentenced to Paradise Trails, a misleadingly pleasant name for a youth camp hidden in the woods more akin to Full Metal Jacket than a scout retreat. Bob Patrice (Bill Sage), himself a former Olympic archery champion, runs the facility with an iron fist. Any minor infraction is met with excessively harsh punishment and increased detainment, prompting Lauren and her rebel soul-mate, Rebecca (Jeanine Mason), to escape the facility and seek justice away from incarceration.
Wrongfully imprisoned is a genre upon itself, and meshing this with the exaggerated yet factual accounts of teen abuse in camps such as this affords director Valerie Weiss an ample canvas to stage a relentless thriller. After the initial setup and arrival at Paradise Trails, Weiss and company hit the ground running and never drift back.
As Lauren, Bailey Noble anchors the film as a troublesome teenager whose age betrays the maturity and resilience within. We have all seen this character before – a tough, intelligent youth refusing to be placated by sadistic adults – yet Noble’s approach feels more effectual in its earnestness. Yes, she’s essentially The Fugitive as seen through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen. Yet where the Hunger Games character always seemed a bit too clinical in her approach and methodology, Lauren is propelled forward through a hefty mix of blind emotion and necessity, as would seem fitting with anyone in her age bracket. The entirety of the film clicks because its heroine and her plight consistently feels genuine.
Jeanine Mason’s Rebecca initially exemplifies every rebellious teenager ever put to film: angry antics, snide retorts, exhaustingly bucking the system. As she breaks free of the confines of Paradise Trails, Rebecca’s vulnerability begins to emerge, giving way to a deeper understanding than previously thought possible.
The only major nitpick I could draw attention to in the film is the rather one-note motives of Bob Patrice and his son, Michael (Michael Grant Terry). While Lauren and Rebecca derive the king’s ransom of growth, the Patrice boys seem a hair too mustache twirling at times. Bill Sage makes a valiant attempt at a sympathetic villain, unfortunately there is simply nothing within his character to relate to. Bob is a greedy SOB who loves to toy with teenagers, and Michael is an overpowered bully given full rein of his perverted fantasies. This does not hinder the entertainment factor of the film, as you still cannot wait for Lauren to take these yahoos out with a well-placed arrowhead, but it does ground The Archer firmly as a genre flick.
What’s most intriguing about this film is how it rests its heels on the cusp of a typical B-movie piece, while drawing an astute awareness of character development and societal impact. The Archer seeks to toe that line and deliver a thought provoking societal endeavor, and while it ultimately glides out of range of its target, its primary aspirations of a taut and blisteringly paced thriller hits a bullseye.
Starring Bailey Noble, Bill Sage, Jeanine Mason, Michael Grant Terry
Written by Casey Schroen
Directed by Valerie Weiss