Archons, not to be confused with Archaon: The Halloween Summoning, has finally found a distributor. Writer/director Nick Szostakiwskyj’s follow-up to Black Mountain Side, it was Shot as Hammer of the Gods back in 2016. Then, apart from a couple of festival screenings it seemed to have dropped off the face of the Earth. Now it’s turned up on streaming platforms with a new title. I have no idea what was behind the delay and the title change, but I do have one question. Was it worth the wait?
Sled Dog has just finished up a world tour on the strength of their hit song Backfire. The problem is that’s their only hit, and it came out five years ago. The band guitarist Eric (Rob Raco, Riverdale), drummer Olivia (Samantha Carly) and Mitchell (Josh Collins, Mermaid’s Song) the bassist have a plan though. They’ll head into the woods with a load of drugs and something will come to them. After all, that’s how Backfire was written.
Along the way they meet a group of campers one of whom, April (Parmiss Sehat) is a fan of the band and joins them on their trip. And I mean trip in multiple senses of the word as their activities include canoes and lots of hallucinogens. The problems begin when the drugs don’t seem to wear off. And wherever their trip took them, they’re not the only ones there.
The first part of Archons feels more like a generic indie drama than a horror film. We get to watch some annoying, unlikable people spout angsty dialogue and smoke incessantly. And that’s about it. After twenty minutes of this I was ready for them to start tripping. But after they break out the blotter, nothing happens. So, they sit around and smoke some more. Exciting stuff, right?
Once Archons remembers it’s supposed to be a horror movie things do get better and around the half-hour mark the drugs kick in and the water turns colours that usually involve industrial chemicals. Mitch finds music he doesn’t remember recording, and they make the mistake of camping near some strange huts.
One issue I had was with the revelation that they didn’t take acid as they thought but “what the natives took to go on their spiritual journeys”. That would usually be something that you would either ingest by chewing. smoking, or possibly making a tea from it. Why Szostakiwskyj didn’t just have them do shrooms in the first place and avoid the whole issue is another matter.
Archons are, according to Gnostic beliefs, a form of a demon. That and something Eric says about the river itself would fit in with the spiritual journey angle. But the script doesn’t make anything clear at all. And the ending only makes matters worse, especially if you were paying attention to what the DJ was saying.
There are some well done moments, like the first time the creatures show up. They’re certainly unique looking, though not exactly intimidating when we finally see them up close. The cinematography is excellent as well. Whether daytime shots of the British Columbia wilderness or atmospheric night shots, the Archons always looks good. The night shots get a boost from sound work that frequently gives the scenes an otherworldly/altered state type vibe.
Unfortunately, the incredibly slow beginning and confused plot ruin much of the effect. It’s almost like the filmmakers took whatever the characters did and thought they were making something profound. And that never seems nearly as good when the drugs wear off.