A Gnostically, Esoteric EVIL Acid Trip. “Archons” reviewed! (Syndicado / DVD)

“Archons” are Watching You.  You Can Watch Them on DVD!  Click the Cover to Purchase!

A once promising, up-and-coming rock trio struggles years later to exit the shadow of their only hit song. They embark on an acid-stimulated spiritual canoe trip down the meandering river pathways of British Columbia, hoping the creative juices will flow under the influence while connecting the native wilderness. Along the way, they pick up a beach camping super fan and continue their trek toward mapped out checkpoints and take a hit of acid at each stop. The drugs have seemingly taken effect in a strange, voyeuristic way as if someone, or something, is watching them at each campsite. The visions become terrifyingly vivid as a pair of humanoid creatures rummage through their gear during the night and survey them from afar no matter where the band are or how far they travel. To make the situation worse, the acid they’re ingesting might be the root cause that not only expands their mind beyond the brain’s limited scope but also grows a biological entity wriggling for more room space.

The influence behind Nick Szostakiwskyj’s “Archons” is something fascinatingly outlandish in what’s a simile to the Scientology handbook. Rulers of the realm, creators of the physical universe, guardians of the celestial heavens, architects of the kingdom of darkness, archons, as some historical cultural teachings would have it, rise above traditional and conventional spiritualities with an expanse and infinitude of spiritual knowledge as related to the Gnosticism belief system. For the Vancouver filmmaker, Szostakiwskyj adapts the ideology with a bad acid trip in his 2020 cosmic horror that was once under the working time, “Hammer of the Gods.” “Archons” is the third feature film for Szostakiwskyj and the second otherworldly horror following “Black Mountain Side,” a precursing complementor that also captures the spectacularly natural, yet ominous lit, Canadian terrain in the Winter opposite season compared to “Archons’s'” Summer. The independent Canadian feature is A Farewell to Kings Entertainment production and is produced by Szostakiwskyj with Cameron Tremblay and alongside with the now defunction A Farewell to Kings Entertainment executive producer team of Samantha Carly and Steve Kaszas, who are now in the leadership team of Alright Alice Productions, and James and Susan McDonald.

“Archons” is tightly casted with less than a handful of canoers being spied upon by the gnarly gatekeepers of the universe. The story surrounds the spiritual and drug-laced scull trip of Dog Sled, a three-piece rock band who have lost their creative mojo and star power momentum with a fickle music fanbase. Lead singer Mitchell Ashley-Hoffman doesn’t have the emotional range to synthesize great lyrics but has the vocals of a sway fans and is played with Kurt Cobain-esque and mellow concern by Josh Collins. Rob Raco and Samantha Carly play bassist and songwriter Eric and drummer Olivia, aka Liv, and the pair are more in tune with each other while Mitchell mind wanders and drools over the ride hitcher and tarry eyed fan, April (Parmiss Sehat). The Vancouver based cast have enough chemistry to be slowly dismantling as a band on the fringe of collapse with backdoor dealings from one of them aiming to go solo into the limelight and to hold secrets that lead to life-threatening consequences all in the name of spiritual retreat.  However, to the extent of the being followed, spied upon, and endangered by hostile creatures, the character concern level is too low as if apathy for interdimensional beings that at first were cloaked and now are full view is not at the top of the internal fear alarm list for any of them.  The situation is written downplayed and the subtle actions to understand what’s in front of them mutes the anxiety for the audience.  “Archons” rounds out the cast with radio voices, minor roles, and two archons with Billie-Rae Grant, Lauren Donnelly (“Viral”), Michael Dickson (“Driver From Hell”), Timothy Lyle (“The Revenant”), Cameron Tremblay, Nathaniel Gordon, Marc Anthony Williams (“Black Mountain Side”), and Quinton Boisclair (“Demonic).

“Archons” has this beautiful backdrop of British Columbia’s topographical nature in a panoramic view in a breathtakingly serene opening shot and continues the wilderness motif with a thick forest and a never-ending river that seemingly swallow a group clearly not in their usual element.  “Archons” also has a beautifully disturbing breadth of perception concept laced with drugs and the gnostic universe.  The cosmic horror element is not forced or over-the-top being wrapped and shrouded in ambiguous mystery that keeps audiences glued to the progression baby steps before coming to terms with a dropped veil that causes reactionary looks over your shoulder with every unexplainable sound not in view.  Szostakiwskyj is in no hurry to quickly build an underlayer reality that ties into a dualistic system of two worlds running parallel to each other and colliding when drugs produce the sneak peek behind the curtain.  What shouldn’t be seen is clearly bad for the protagonists’ health, much like drugs in themselves if abused, and Szostakiwskyj plays into that limitation of the mind as if the part the brain or the organism that allows to see it all overloads, or overdoses if you will, the network of tissue and neurons until it bursts outward like a Yellostone geyser in a spray of blood in what is a pretty neat and simple effect, one of the few practical effects by Geoff Ingeberg in this rather performance driven film, as well as a neat scene to behold while the group travels down river when the unexpected pop occurs.  “Archons” is open for a numerous of interpretations, leaving the possibilities endless, but we don’t exactly know where Eric the bassist obtained the snack baggie drugs, what the creatures are intently undertaking, or if the vague final scene is the aftermath of a horrible acid trip gone fatally wrong and has dislodged memories of events, jumbling them up to the point where nothing makes sense and leaves more questions than answers.  The story definitely ends with more desires in detail, delineation, and context but isn’t the less-is-more concept the bread-and-butter of cosmic horror where the unknown is the scariest part that makes us feel infinitely small knowing the world around us is infinitely bigger?

Splice into a new and startling reality with your own DVD copy of “Archons” courtesy of Syndicado Distribution. Stored on a DVD9, “Archons” is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 that enhances the initial landscape shots in the opening scenes. From then on out, Cameron Tremblay’s cinematography sticks to eyeline mid-to-closeup framing with a here-and-there upward angle to inject foreboding if the scene calls for it. Despite being pitch black, the aphotic zones Tremblay creates without the use of artificial lighting or tinting day scenes provides a sobering and somber authenticity of young people being stalked in the woods. Syndicado stakes a larger storage capacity for a low-budget film and the result pays off despite the decoding 5-6Mbps rate with the blacks looking especially inky without an inkling of compression issues, such as banding or splotchiness that plague darker scenes. The cooler color pallet digs a little more into bleak atmospherics, but there are warm pops of the BC bush with lime green leaves. The English Stereo 2.0 challenges to be more potent than it should be as the quiet and desolate trek the nature should incite more directional channels for a sound design that relies on the rustle of branches and the creatures’ low gutturals off in the distance and in an undeterminable bearing. What’s essentially a bare bones release, the region 1, clear cased DVD comes with the theatrical trailer on a static menu that also includes chapter selection. “Archons” is unrated with a runtime of 88 minutes. A low-key cosmic horror with eye-opening chills, “Archons” is cabbalistic cinema for the selective few who will understand it but does harp on the relatable proverb of with seeking fame comes a price.

“Archons” are Watching You.  You Can Watch Them on DVD!  Click the Cover to Purchase!

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