Robin Hood. Legolas. Katniss Everdeen. That dead-eyed kid from We Need to Talk About Kevin. Archers all. The Archer’s Lauren Pierce is not a name you’ll need add to that list. Bailey Noble does a fine job as the cocksure protagonist, a going-places high school competitor with a sharp eye and a short fuse who winds up in a correctional facility for minors, but Casey Schroen’s undeveloped script and an entirely underwhelming edit doesn’t allow Lauren to flourish into anything beyond a hodgepodge of kick-ass chick cliches trapped in a humdrum teen thriller.
The film opens as Lauren and her less-competent, weak-spirited archery partner Nina (Ana Markova) seal the deal to become Tri-State Archery Champions. The two celebrate by dancing on their motel beds, imbibing secret swill and fooling around. Nina pep talks Lauren about boys but it’s pretty clear that Lauren’s of an alternative sexual persuasion, a fact cemented by the glow in Noble’s eyes when Nina strips to a frilly brasserie.
Just when things start getting frisky, Nina’s abusive boyfriend arrives, demanding a lay and promptly getting handsier than Donald Trump in a locker room. When the responsive Lauren lays the smack down – a well-deserved triple-cross clobbering to the fuckboy’s smug snow-globe of a face – she finds herself enveloped in more hot water than a hot tub.
After a punitive bout with a hardened judge lacking even a lick of empathy, Lauren finds herself reprimanded to Paradise Ridge, a reform camp for girls tucked into the California mountain range. Like Louis Sachar’s “Holes” for hooha’s, this tough love encampment is led by the militant Bob Patrice (Bill Sage), who just so happens to be a former archery champion himself, and his perverted son Michael (Michael Grant Terry.)
Once at Paradise Ridge, The Archer starts to come apart at the seams. The about face epiphany that this place is hiding some malicious secret is rushed and bungled, bubbling to the surface without any nuance, with Schroen dropping hints much like animated dog Blue would on his popular television show. As the plot thickens, it accelerates like a Ferrari with a cement block on the gas. Faster and faster with behind the wheel. Director Valerie Weiss just can’t seem to get a handle on the material, which seems on autopilot, slipping away from her grasp as The Archer careens into increasingly predictable territory.
There’s suggestions of sexual abuse that take shape in the most over-the-top obvious of manners, some trite moral lessons about arrows curving and then straightening out – a metaphor that supposedly applies to life and archery both – and learning to shoot without the sights, a pandering truism about trusting your instincts that accidentally feels like a watered-down version of Ben Kenobi’s “Use the force, Luke” advice but it doesn’t really amount to anything because the relationships in the film are as undeveloped as Sierra Leone.
It’s hard to root for Lauren because, as the film draws on, she makes rash decisions that prove unjustified. She’s not an anti-hero so much as a violent rebel whose incarceration increasingly makes sense over time. A fledgling romance with also inmate Rebecca (Jeanine Mason) attempts to be the emotional glue, and the two performers share palpable chemistry, but their quick romantic acquisition – where the two tough-shelled BAMFs fall in love essentially over the course of 48 hours – cheapens the bond. That the two frequent the Terrible Decisions Station – they share an offensive predilection for lollygagging with their lives on the line – can be frustrating past the point of wringing one’s hands.
So too are the villains one-dimensional and poorly sketched. At 86 minutes, Weiss just doesn’t find the time to fill out any of her characters, leaving them as standee archetypes with a fresh coat of 21st century paint. Rushed development leads to hackneyed diatribes that’ll leave audience members craving substance rolling their eyes. The development with these characters just isn’t there and it shows in the writing, even when the admittedly strong performances threaten to overcome the messy pages. Though The Archer aims for some kind of novelty with young, gorgeous lesbian protagonists at the center, it comes up well short of a bullseye.
Weiss’ budget restricts The Archer‘s action sequences to feeling sallow and slapdash, almost sad, with wide camera angles that only serve to highlight the limitations of the production. With hacky character development that results in thin, poorly written players, this one-note thriller still manages to be somewhat engaging, even through its overt predictability. At the very least, The Archer is rarely boring, though there’s little evidence of cleverness or novelty in front of or behind the camera.
CONCLUSION: What starts promisingly peters into an aggressively paced but slow-witted potboiler in Valerie Weiss’ ‘The Archer’, a coming of age rebellion thriller that can’t deliver satisfying character development or arresting action but is nonetheless never dull.