August 13, 2018 The Ranger (Movie Review)
Each year, millions visit our National Parks – not everyone gets to leave! In the new Punk Rock-dusted Slasher/Horror flick The Ranger, a group of colorful punks are pit against one truly bad-ass park ranger, hellbent on keeping law and order in the woods. Currently entrenched in a successful run on the festival circuit, The Ranger rolls onward to upcoming screenings at Popcorn Frights, the IFC Center in NYC, Frightfest London, Genre Blast, BAFS, LAEMMLE, and more, all thanks to Glass Eye Pix/Hood River Entertainment.
Pink-haired, leather-clad punk rocker Chelsea (Chloe Levine: The Transfiguration 2016, The Defenders mini-series) is enjoying her evening at a local underground Punk club for the bridge and tunnel crowd in NYC. That is, until the “pigs” come and ruin the entire thing. Desperate to make an escape and carrying massive quantities of drugs, her boyfriend Garth (Granit Lahu: The Sinner series, Abstract Furies short 2018) decides to take matters into his own hands and stabs a police officer. This sets in motion an entire run-for-your-lives scenario, wherein their best friends Abe (Bubba Weiler: The Good Fight series, Puzzle 2018) and Jerk (Jeremy Pope in his acting debut) decide to come along for the ride. Somewhat unwittingly, so does the blue-haired free-spirit Amber (Amanda Grace Benitez: All Cheerleaders 2013, School of Rock series).
With APBs out for Chelsea and Garth, the group flee into the Catskills in a spray-painted van emblazoned with the immortal words “Live Free or Die.” With almost nowhere to hide, Garth makes the executive decision to take the group to Chelsea’s family’s old hunting cabin in the woods, a seemingly safe retreat from civilization. Before they can get to the safety of the cabin, however, they have a run-in with a local Park Ranger (Jeremy Holm: House of Cards series, Mr. Robot series). Anti-authority and quite the anarchist-in-training, Garth trades a few not-so-kindly or respectful words with the Ranger, who clearly already has a massive chip on his shoulder. A stickler for every fine detail of law and order, this Ranger does not appreciate mayhem on his mountain!
At the cabin, everything is not all s’mores and sunshine. The group are testy with one another, uncertain as to how to proceed with evading the authorities, while Chelsea is facing some seriously haunting memories of her childhood in these exact woods. When tragedy strikes from out of nowhere, the survivors will begin a race against time to save a friend’s life. Unfortunately, in their panicked state, they split up, and as is so often the case, this is only the beginning of their hell.
An Official Selection at 2018’s Frightfest London, Fantasia, and SXSW Film Festivals, The Ranger is a feature-length debut for talented Director Jenn Wexler (Slumber Party short 2012, Halloween Bash short 2013) and was written by Wexler and Giaco Furino (Did You Know Gaming? TV documentary short 2016). The film also stars Larry Fessenden (Habit 1995, Stake Land 2010) as Chelsea’s Uncle Pete, and Jeté Laurence (The Americans series, The Snowman 2017) as an adorable young Chelsea.
The idea of an authority figure with an axe to grind is hardly a new one in any film genre. In fact, none of the tropes presented in The Ranger are exactly new, but the puzzle pieces are fitted together in such a way as to craft a quick-moving tale that is an enjoyable watch. Here, the film falls into the over-generalized Horror-Thriller genre, while more specifically touching on the Slasher subgenre. However, this is all done with a “light” approach, which leaves The Ranger to never feel like a true 1980s Slasher. Although, the squeamish should be warned: there’s blood, including one truly gruesome scene involving a bear trap that goes so overboard as to be almost sadistically laughable. Laughable, that is, to those of us with iron stomachs.
The ensemble cast here do a good job in their roles, with the most well-rounded and complicated performances going to the film’s two lead actors: Levine (as Chelsea) and Holm (as the Ranger). In his role, Holm is intense and, ultimately, creeptastic, providing a suitably deranged twist that will leave one particular scene embedded in your memory long after the credits final crawl. He is the perfect example of a by-the-book enforcement agent, one who promises that “violators will be punished” with an iron fist (or a large rifle). Quite his opposite, Levine’s Chelsea is a young woman with a troubled past, someone struggling to find who she is in an already confusing world. While she seems to find a level of personal freedom within her current scene, she also has a clear respect and love of the great outdoors; she is young and wanting to be carefree, but tethered to a haunting, bloody real past.
The Ranger heavily traffics in an interesting twist on the same old in the form of its heavy nods to the NJ/NYC Punk scene, which include its wonderful Punk soundtrack. There is a clear love and appreciation for all thinks Punk Rock here, and you cannot help but love that about the film. Much like the contrast between the story’s two lead characters, this punk aesthetic is beautifully contrasted with some stunning scenery and nature, thanks to Upstate New York where The Ranger was filmed. This natural beauty is the perfect reminder to all to “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”
There is a wonderful dichotomy at work here in The Ranger. Alright, so it is not going to change the landscape of Slashers for Horror films to come, but it is a good movie, an enjoyable ride that has some amusing highs. From its wonderful cast to its magnificent scenery, its questioning of authority and Punk Rock ethos, The Ranger is absolutely worthy of your next Netflix and chill session. For these reasons, CrypticRock give The Ranger 4 of 5 stars.