By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
The Archivist (2021), the debut feature from director Eric Hand, is a glorious tribute to the distinct storytelling mechanics, characterizations, and vibrant, eye-popping style of the grindhouse motion pictures of the 1960’s–1970’s. The 109-minute creation beautifully mirrors this most cinematic of eras through its emotionally compelling, moody, and evocative music from White Noise Generator. The aforementioned time frame is also brilliantly reflected in the stunning cinematography from Hand. It is also seen in the remarkable performances, namely Emmett Corbin as Colonel Boaz and Jennifer Giles as Mother/Agent Pope, from everyone involved in the production.
This quality is immediately evident in the superb depiction from Hand as the lead of the narrative, Agent Caulder Benson. Hand’s enactment of Benson masterfully models that of Clint Eastwood as The Man With no Name in Sergio Leone’s brilliant Dollar Trilogy. This trio of western classics included A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). What also heightens this parallel is that The Archivist was shot on restored 35mm Techniscope Arriflex cameras and lenses. These were also used in the recording of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. When Hand’s effort gradually aligns itself to a series of events one would associate with the previously stated Leone/Eastwood collaborations, it naturally fits the loving homage the movie mesmerizingly crafts.
Utilizing the book burning and governmental control elements of Ray Bradbury’s tour de force, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), alongside other timeless bits of science-fiction, human horror, and fantasy, Hand, who also successfully portrays Lazarus, tells the tale of Benson: a violent man whose been given the title position by an oppressive administration. Taking place in 2070, the exercise concerns Benson destroying historical remnants which are considered forbidden. In so doing, he finds out that these items seem to have a strange power over him. Filled with sudden questions and concerns about the world around him, he steals a muscle car from the 1970’s. He then heads out into the chaos of the post-apocalyptic landscape around him. Pursued by an ominous sheriff and in constant danger of the bizarre individuals he encounters, Benson searches for answers. This is while trying to escape his own past.
Reportedly made for $800,000, The Archivist is an ambitious, layered marvel of independent filmmaking. The screenplay, co-authored by Bo Gardner and Hand, is filled with tough, organic, occasionally quippy, yet often thoughtful and poetic dialogue. Such speech, along with the on-screen personalities who speak them, fit perfectly with the ambiance of a Leone/Eastwood work from nearly six decades ago. Such a design signifies that the primary personalities that dominate the piece remain enigmatic throughout the duration of the project. Regardless, this general lack of development doesn’t hinder the proceedings.
What also further strengthens the endeavor is the exceptional visual effects from Michael Crigler and Zach Hunter. They also illuminate the 1970’s veneer of the attempt. Moreover, the editing from D. Prescott Noel and Tom Marotta, makeup from Paul Moody, and set decoration by Kendall Moody are first-rate. The art direction from Ed Amantia and stunts are just as finely honed.
Opening with an exciting, no-nonsense first act and concluding with an engrossing and quietly moving finale, The Archivist is smart, accomplished, tonally flawless, and consistently captivating entertainment. It is guaranteed to thrill both cinephiles and casual viewers alike. The action scenes are retro excellence. They are intimate and never overdone. Continually, they are also enthralling and deftly constructed. The excursion moves at a confident pace. It is never too rushed or too slow. This is ideal for the material. Hand’s undertaking incorporates social commentary into the plot just as smoothly as it does its high-level of audience involvement. In turn, The Archivist is one of the most impressive photoplays I have seen all year. It is a true fabrication of celluloid art. Particularly, one that will prove to be as enduring as the legendary ventures from which it takes such fervent notes.
The Archivist will be available via Vimeo on Demand Christmas, 2021. Blu-rays for it can be found at http://thearchivistmovie.com/.