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‘The Ranger’ (review)

Produced by Andrew van den Houten,
Larry Fessenden,
Ashleigh Snead,
Heather Buckley, Jenn Wexler

Screenplay by Jenn Wexler, Giaco Furino
Directed by Jenn Wexler
Starring Chloë Levine, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope,
Bubba Weiler, Amanda Grace Benitez,
Jeremy Holm, Larry Fessenden

 

Hit-or-miss punk-rock homage to 80s slashers has its moments but ultimately misses the mark, alas.

A group of punk rocker friends get into trouble with the law at a nightclub and are forced to go on the lam.

One of the friends, Chelsea, has access to a remote and vacant cabin in the woods that her late uncle owned.

The rowdy, rude gang converge on the horror location staple, but not before running afoul of the titular character, a park ranger previously introduced in the film’s prelude in which a very young Chelsea is being comforted by our square-jawed villain after an apparent trauma. He serves her a sandwich with the crusts cut off…and then the police arrive.

After the awkward confrontation between punks and park employee, the group arrives at the cabin. Once there, Chelsea begins to act a bit strange: she becomes increasingly agitated with her friends’ “rebellious” behavior – including their tagging trees around the cabin – and gets a bit squirrelly when discussing her uncle’s gruesome death.

I liked Chloe Levine as Chelsea, especially in these early scenes. She looks like the punk rock version of a silent film star and does a fine job evoking the effect of childhood trauma on the adult Chelsea.

She also credibly conveys how Chelsea is indeed becoming more of an adult, as her love of nonconformity and rebellion doesn’t quite jibe with her friends’ far more adolescent (even infantile) displays.

The film is “soft horror” at best for the first half or so, until the violence kicks in with a bang. The kids are suddenly being hunted and must fight for survival.

Unfortunately – similarly to Wolf Creek – the nearly horror-free buildup is more interesting than the horror “payoff”.

The kills are unpleasant and sometimes ugly, but they aren’t scary or fun or suspenseful.

It doesn’t help that other than Chelsea there are no other even remotely sympathetic characters, so their onscreen demises elicit a bored shrug.

And while Jeremy Holm is fine as the ranger, he isn’t frightening or forbidding. He mostly comes across as one-note and cartoonish, rendering the climax utterly ineffectual.

Too bad, too, as Chelsea is a strong final girl, and she – and Levine’s strong performance – was the only thing holding my attention after awhile.

The film is indeed crisply shot and I think co-writer/director Wexler has a cool horror flick up her sleeve in the near future, but this one just didn’t work for me.

However, a bonus point for proudly featuring Rolling Rock.

The Ranger hits New York’s IFC Center August 17th and
L.A.’s Laemmle Music Hall September 7th!

 

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