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The Archivist (2021) Review

If you take Fahrenheit 451 and mix it with Vanishing Point, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and let Alejandro Jodorowsky direct it, you might get something like The Archivist. Director Eric Hand and co-writer Bo Gardner have created a near-future dystopia where strange characters clash violently between bouts of hallucinations and philosophical dialogue.

In the year 2070 Caulder Benson (Eric Hand) in an Archivist, appointed by the government of His Excellency (Steve Aaron) to destroy books, music, automobiles and other reminders of society’s indulgent past. And to destroy those who would possess them. However, an encounter with legendary rebel Sam McBain (Sam Hand) unleashes memories Benson has kept repressed, and he steals a vintage muscle car and heads into the wilderness in order to find out who he truly is.

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Many filmmakers have claimed they were recreating the aesthetics of the grindhouse film and then delivered a film with digital print damage and CGI effects. The Archivist was actually shot on a restored Techniscope 35mm Arriflex with no CGI involved. Even the film’s vortex effects were shot utilizing lasers and a selection of vintage split diopters and vintage lens filters.

The result is a film that looks like it came through a time warp from the 1970s. Of course, being shot on 35mm as opposed to 16mm and mostly screened digitally rather than running a print through a projector, it looks a bit too nice to have played the grindhouse circuit. But I can live with that.

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Plotwise, The Archivist has a bit more in common with the arthouse than the grindhouse. It’s a tale of biological computers and their respective champions. One evil, the other a messianic figure that has been corrupted and must find redemption. But that is just a framework to hang Benson’s journey on. The Archivist is as much about his trip across the wastelands as he’s pursued by the insane Angus (Dale Shumate) and his gang, as well as the resurrected Sheriff Lazarus (Eric Hand). And about the people he meets on that trip.

In the end, just what it all means is open to a lot of interpretation. By the time The Archivist’s credits started to roll, I had more questions than I did during the film, which I think was the point. It’s supposed to make you think and question what you saw, and by extension, your own perception of the world around you, just like many films of the 70s, from El Topo to Circle of Iron did. Or at least tried to do.

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And just to add to the overall impressiveness of the film, this wasn’t just the first feature for most of The Archivist’s cast and crew, it was the first film of any kind for many of them. Even the director has only one previous short to his credit. And many of them were taking roles both in front of and behind the camera. This was an incredibly ambitious project pulled off by some very dedicated people. It’s the kind of thing that makes me have hope for the future of film.

I really can’t think of too many recent films I’ve seen that I could give as a reference point to The Archivist. The closest thing that comes to mind is the English acid western Day of the Stranger. And like it, this is a film that you need to actually see to wrap your head around. The Archivist is available on Blu-Ray at the film’s website. You can check there or the film’s Facebook page for updates. It’s scheduled to come to Vimeo on Demand for Christmas. You may want to spike the egg nog with something stronger than rum before you watch it though.

Our Score
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