When champion archery competitor Lauren Pierce (Bailey Noble) leads her team to victory at the end of the season, she and best friend Emily (Victoria Grace Cox) retire to a hotel room to celebrate, but the festivities are interrupted by the arrival of Emily’s abusive boyfriend. Lauren heroically comes to her friend’s defense as the altercation turns physical, but her claim of self-defense falls on deaf ears when she’s charged with aggravated assault and sentenced to a remote juvenile detention center nestled deep in the wilderness.
The facility may be called Paradise Trails, but under the control of former Olympic archer Bob Patrice (Bill Sage), it’s far removed from the idyllic setting conjured by its name. The young ladies under his care are frequently put through brutal physical punishments for their transgressions – including being forced to run laps while dragging a cinder block chained around their waists – and are subject to the leering gaze and perverse whims of the warden’s son (Michael Grant Terry). Contact with the outside world is forbidden, and when Lauren discovers her sentence has been extended thanks to a minor infraction, she resolves to take matters into her own hands.
Befriending a fellow inmate named Rebecca (Jeanine Mason) with a history of escape attempts, Lauren devises a plan to give them a shot at freedom, but her scheme takes an unexpected turn when she stumbles onto evidence of widespread corruption keeping Bob’s pockets lined with cash. As she and Rebecca traverse the forests that lie between Paradise Trails and civilization, Bob and his trusty hunting bow are hot on their trail, setting up an inevitable showdown between two expert marksmen.
Directed by Valerie Weiss, The Archer is an engaging exercise in suspense whose script sometimes seems at odds with the story it’s telling. For example, during her court hearing, we learn that Lauren is a straight-A student that’s never been in trouble – yet the short-tempered and defiant attitude on display whenever she encounters an authority figure doesn’t seem congruent with that backstory. There’s also no explanation given for her ability to consistently outwit and outmaneuver an accomplished hunter and survivalist while wandering through unfamiliar territory, and at times her resourcefulness strains the limits of credulity.
Those minor complaints aside, The Archer still remains a tightly wound pursuit-based thriller, thanks in no small part to Noble’s magnetic and charismatic performance. It’s a physically demanding role that will likely garner its share of comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games series – a teenage female with uncanny archery skills wages war on government corruption – but this is a more intimate story, told on a much smaller scale, and Lauren is arguably a better heroine and role model than Katniss Everdeen.