Archie’s Final Project Review

(2.5 STARS)

This review was written as part of “The CK’s Not-So-Secret Santa Review Swap (in July)”, a community project from The Cinematic Katzenjammer. Please catch up with the idea for this project and the other reviews written for it here.

Archie’s Final Project boasts a rather fascinating concept, a compelling story, and an inspired execution. The blame for its relative failure lies with the fact Archie’s Final Project is utterly exhausting. A wiry hybrid of a found-footage movie and a faux-student film, Archie is relentless and frenetic. But when it asks us to slow down for a moment of emotional catharsis, you’ll have already had enough. Archie’s Final Project has a lot of important and resonant things to say, but the manor by which director David Lee Miller relays that message to his audience is flawed—too busy, too immature, too “look-at-me” to pack the punch it should.

As you might expect, our lead character is Archie (Gabriel Sunday), and for the final project in his video class, he intends to kill himself on camera. The pronunciation shocks his classmates, teachers, and parents; Archie has always been a weird dude, but no one thought him suicidal. And while he’s forced into therapy, the announcement had an unexpected side effect: A perpetual loner, Archie is suddenly popular. Everyone wants to chime in (as part of his film) as to whether his imminent offing is courageous or cowardly. One of the most interested parties is Sierra (Brooke Nevin), the girl Archie always had a crush on. She wants to interview him for the school paper, but their relationship develops into something more, which forces Archie to rethink his plans…assuming he actually intended to do the deed in the first place.

A list or discussion of Archie’s Final Project‘s positive attributes must start with Gabriel Sunday’s performance. While Miller undeniably throws a lot at his audience, he also asks a great deal from his lead. Sunday, as Archie, needs to be creepy, alienating, and he must at least seem suicidal. He also needs to make us care about him and his story. If you don’t, the film will never come across as sincere when it dials back. While I ultimately objected to a number of things about the film, the reason I responded to it at all is because Sunday is successful on this one crucial front.

While the rest of the cast is comprised of familiar faces, they’re those of character actors, and none particularly stands out. David Carradine, Mariel Hemingway, Nora Dunn, Joe Mantegna, and Tony Hale all pop up here and there, but none leaves much of an impression (it should be noted that none falls flat, either). The supporting character with the most screen time is Sierra, and Brooke Nevin proves more than capable of being a unique and surprising foil to Sunday’s Archie.

Where the film ultimately falls flat is in Miller’s insistence upon styling Archie’s Final Project into oblivion. No scene is shot or cut or even composed in a remotely straightforward way. He employs handheld camerawork (some of which makes no sense within the context of the film). He animates certain scenes. Everything is cut super quickly, and there are bursts of words and colors that fill the screen at the director’s will. There’s a rather beautiful story at the heart of this film, but it’s buried beneath layers of artifice that are frustratingly distracting.

Because Archie’s Final Project is about something as heavy as teen suicide—and more to the point, because its method of storytelling is rather obnoxious—it isn’t a film I’d recommend to anyone. But for all its flaws, I must say it isn’t a film I’ll forget watching anytime soon.

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