After a traumatic childhood, a teen girl lives a transient punk lifestyle with her friends. A police incident forces the group of punks to find a place to hide out. They go back to the place of the girl’s trauma where they meet the park ranger. Things go from bad to worse when the friends realize this isn’t your friendly neighborhood ranger.
This thrilling flick is the work of director Jenn Wexler and co-writer Giaco Furino, both making their feature film debut. At first glance this film seems like a typical popcorn slasher. While it does have many of the elements making it fun and exciting to watch, it goes even deeper than that. For one, the film has some great character development. A large portion of the beginning of the film allows the audience to really get to know the characters and care for them, especially the teen girl whose cabin they go to. All of the characters are flawed as well, making them more believable and relatable. There is a great aspect of the character development that explores both dealing with trauma and finding your place in the world. It is something that speaks to many different types of audiences, while still giving an entertaining story.
Another extremely successful aspect of the film is the treatment of LGBTQ characters. It is common in horror films for the LGBTQ characters to fit some stereotype or have their being gay be the focus of who they are as a person. In The Ranger there is a gay couple and the best part about them is that I didn’t even realize they were gay until a ways into the film. They feel like real people and, aside from them having a sweet couple moment or two, the filmmakers don’t focus on the fact that they are gay.
The only downside is that the character development may go on a little too long. When the action starts it almost feels rushed because so much time is spent on what happens before the kids even meet the ranger. There is also very little development of the ranger himself. In many ways it works. The ranger’s strange behavior is a mystery, which makes sense because the audience knows as much about the ranger as the teens do. Yet I can’t help wishing I knew more about some of the more bizarre things he does.
This film is filled with outstanding performances from the entire cast. The clear standout is Chloe Levine (The Transfiguration, The OA) as Chelsea. Chelsea went through a childhood trauma that lead her to finding a home in the punk scene. It’s fascinating to see how Levine portrays Chelsea as a young woman who is finding her way in the word. She also does a superb job of showing the audience Chelsea is a survivor who can adapt to any situation thrown at her. Another great performance comes from Jeremy Holm (House of Cards, Mr. Robot) as the ranger. Even when the ranger is being perfectly pleasant, Holm still manages to bring an edge to his performance. It is like he is a bear trap ready to spring at any provocation. When he finally does snap, Holm makes the ranger an entertaining and derange killer. Honorable mention goes to the rest of the punks including Granit Lahu (The Sinner), Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler (Puzzle), and Amanda Grace Benitez (All Cheerleaders Die), all of whom are perfect punks.
The artistry of the film is intriguing as well. As with any good slasher flick, there is a decent amount of blood and gore in this film. The practical effects are very well done. There is a high level of gore, but it is done in a very realistic way. This is great because there isn’t anything that feels over-the-top or overtly fake like in many classic slasher films. The music in the film also elevates it to a heightened level of art. The punk rock blends perfectly with the style and imagery to create something quite stunning to watch.
The Ranger is equal parts carnage, survival, and punk rock. It has all the appeal of an eighties slasher flick, but it also tells a more complex story. The plot allows for fascinatingly flawed characters to be thrust into extreme circumstances. This leaves room for great character development that explores the many facets of human nature, how people deal with trauma, and the will to survive. Sprinkle in a great killer and punk rock music and you get a very well made film. There may be a bit of room for improvement when it comes to the pacing of the film, but for a directorial and writing debut from Wexler and Furina, it is definitely a strong start.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10