The Ranger Chloe LevineYear: 2018
Director(s): Jenn Wexler
Writer(s): Jenn Wexler, Giaco Furino
Region of Origin: USA
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 77 mins

Synopsis: Teen punks, on the run from the cops and hiding out in the woods, come up against the local authority – an unhinged park ranger with an axe to grind. (Source)

As the horror genre continues to transform, I find myself often missing the smaller, DIY slashers of the 80s. These films did more with less, and felt a bit more dangerous and loose. Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger satiates this craving with its infectious, primal brand of gore, drugs and punk rock. This thing has got all the staples of a great midnight movie, replete with just enough emotional weight to make the story pop. There’s a volatile mix of classic elements here, paying homage to the classics while still maintaining a modern, aggressive voice.

The setup is refreshingly simple. Chelsea (Chloe Levine) and her friends are at a punk show. Things go off the rails when the police raid the club during a drug bust. As they make their escape, Chelsea’s volatile boyfriend, Garth (Granit Lahu), stabs a cop, and the group is forced into hiding. They decide to skip town and lay low at a cabin that used to belong to Chelsea’s late uncle. While there, they meet an unhinged park ranger (Jeremy Holm), who just so happens to share a secret with Chelsea. Before the kids know it, they’re being hunted and knocked off one by one, leading the survivors to get resourceful in order to survive the night.

From the get, Wexler’s film is a throwback that knows exactly what it wants to be, and sets out to hit that goal in the most crowd pleasing way. The chemistry from the cast, despite them being constantly at each other’s throats, is real, and the plot moves along without ever looking back. Once the film settles into survival mode, things get grisly real quick. Like the best slashers, the film benefits from its twisted boogeyman. The titular character is given a gleefully wild personality (sprouting park rules and regulations while ravaging his prey) but is still menacing in all the right ways. As the blood flows, the drugs are loosed and the film enters a surreal third act. Tied together with liberal amounts of thrashing guitars and defiant screams, Wexler’s film is a dark delight that turns out to have a primal, affecting story underneath its drug-addled style.

The Ranger horror movie reviewIt’s worth nothing that Wexler has lined the film with an inclusive cast of kids who break template norms with something much more realistic. Everyone works in their own right, but the real star of the piece is Chloe Levine, who is quickly establishing herself as a true talent. Here, she gives depth to the story’s vague machinations, giving the film true stakes and emotional pull. If you’ve seen her in films like The Transfiguration or King Jack, then you know the range she shows here is pretty impressive. Adding to the lunacy, Jeremy Holm brings to life a colorful new horror figure. He’s a bit over the top and the right amount of silly, but also plays the entire thing straight, giving his baddie a sense of desperation and conviction.

In the best way, The Ranger feels like something a bunch of friends made, recalling the vibe and resourcefulness of Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead. Though this film operates on its own wavelength, it shares a homespun love for carnage that’s just as irresistible. Above all, Wexler’s film shows that this specific subgenere has plenty of life left in it, doing so by twisting influences into something new, and immersing us into a setting that’s satisfying and inventive. This thing is loud, fast, fun and gleefully perverse.