The Ranger, director Jenn Wexler’s first feature, appeared to have so much promise. Unfortunately it fails to live up to it. The premise should have resulted in a slice of sick fun – five kids Chelsea (Chloe Levine), Garth (Granit Lahu) Jerk (Jeremy Pope), Abe (Bubba Weiler) and Amber (Amanda Grace Benitez) – on the run from the law hole up at a cabin in the woods, only to be picked off one by one by a forest warden (Jeremy Holm) with a deadly vendetta against corrupt youth.
Unfortunately though it appears to be trying to recapture the magic of an era which its makers were too young to enjoy the first time round, and hence fail to understand the essence of – namely its underlying innocence.
The ultimate problem problem is that everything here is done with a heavy handed seediness which deadens any spark. There are no characters the viewer feels they can root for: none the kids – including the central protagonist Chelsea, who seems to lack any real substance – are particularly attractive, to the point you don’t care much what happens to them one way or the other.
The expletive-laden script (written by Wexler, along with Giaco Furino) also grates emphasising limitations which seem to afflict many current writers. You don’t have to be a prude to be turned off by a non-stop stream of swearing which, though likely close to the language of many people when caught in bizarre or dangerous situations, shows a lack of scope on the part of the writer. If they had watched enough of the films which clearly they are trying to emulate, they would know that less is more effective, particularly in the case of dialogue.
This said there are elements which work, reminiscent of the best examples of 1980s, kids-in-peril, horrors. The scenery and setting – shot on location in upstate New York – is spectacular, with some marvellous tracking shots of the delinquent’s van being driven through remote backwood roads not dissimilar to the opening road scenes from The Shining (1980) and Evil Dead (1981). The whole cabin thing where the kids hang out (briefly) also evokes memories of Raimi’s classic, though unfortunately the similarities end there.
Top this with some gruesome forest based despatches which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Friday the 13th (1980) – a limb dismemberment care of a discarded animal trap is particularly wince inducing – and the overall feel of the film is the main thing it has in its favour, managing as it does to capture the fresh naivety of those early genre outings.
Essentially though the film fails in its overall attempt to refresh those 1980’s teen-in-peril slasher romps, by going overboard with lashings of drugs, punk music and some retro fashions (which to be honest, don’t look unlike the clothes worn by drop out kids today). The problem with this idea – and hence The Ranger – is that those who lived through it the first time have probably outgrown this fare, whilst younger audiences are likely to want something more sophisticated from their horror.
Director: Jenn Wexler
Writers: Jenn Wexler, Giaco Furino
Stars: Chloe Levine, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler, Amanda Grace Benitez, Jeremy Holm
Runtime: 77 mins