punk

Riot Girls

riot girls

In a post-apocalyptic version of the 90’s lies a small town divided in two. On one side are the poor kids and the punks, on the other are the rich kids and the jocks. When the jocks manage to capture the leader of the punk kids, it’s up to a small band of misfits to go on a rescue mission into enemy territory.

Director Jovanka Vuckovic is most well known for her segment, “The Box,” from horror anthology XX. Now she’s making her feature film debut with Riot Girls, written by Katherine Collins (Blindspot, Lost in Space). The film essentially takes a typical high school 90’s film of jocks vs. punks and injects it with steroids. The post-apocalyptic setting where a virus has wiped out all adults turns the rivalry between the two groups deadly. Without adults to control the violence, the two gangs divide the small town, constantly fighting for resources. The plot focuses on two young women, Nat and Scratch, who are members of the punk gang on the poor side of town. It’s Nat’s brother who is taken by the rival jock gang. These two lovable misfits, with the help of a newcomer, decide to venture into jock territory to save Nat’s brother.

Riot Girls is a compelling film in the way it portrays bullying. The filmmakers also waste no time in portraying the punks as the good guys and the jocks as the bad guys. Aside from the obvious connected to bullying in how the jock’s behave, the societies the two gangs create are also very different. The punks have a more communal society where everyone is taken care of and has a say, while the jocks are run by a malicious dictator and his cronies. It is an extreme portrayal that still feels grounded in reality.

One point of confusion with the plot is the nature of the illness. It is clear that it wiped out all of the adults and that is what led to the current state of the small town. If it had been left at that, then that bit of mystery around the virus would have worked perfectly well. The issue that arises comes from a reference to the virus later on in the film. It seems to be a moment of some significance that hints at some greater piece of the puzzle when it comes to the virus. Yet, after that moment, the virus is never mentioned again. It is a small moment, but the fact that it is not addressed again at any point in the rest of the film makes it seem like a loose end.

A very successful aspect of Riot Girls is how the film portrays Nat and Scratch. Nat is played by Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Annabelle Comes Home). She is the most down to earth and relatable character as she simply tries to live the best life possible in this new world. Scratch, played by Paloma Kwiatkowski (Bates Motel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters), is the much more guarded of the two. She presents a tough exterior and isn’t trusting of those not part of her group, yet inside she is likely even more vulnerable than Nat. Not only do both Iseman and Kwiatkowski deliver great performances on their own, they also have great chemistry together. These two young women are a couple, yet the filmmakers don’t use their relationship as a gimmick and make a point of going, “LOOK OVER HERE, THESE GIRLS ARE LESBIANS!” Nat and Scratch are cinematically shown like any straight couple, which is very important when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in film. Aside from these two strong leading ladies, I need to give performance shout-outs to Ajay Friese (Lost in Space) as the kind outsider, Sony, and Munro Chambers (Turbo Kid) as the sinister jock leader, Jeremy.

Visually, Riot Girls perfectly captures what the small town may have looked like it the world ended in the 90’s. The film has the sort of shiny, plastic, vibrantly colored look typically found in teen films made in the 90’s. Even the music acts as a killer soundtrack of punk rock hits to transport the audience back in time. The clothing also lends itself to that time period. The punk kids rock ripped jeans, leather jackets, and heavy black eye makeup. The jocks are all perfectly coiffed with their tidy clothes and letterman jackets. Then there are some kids that fall between these two groups that have a more grunge look to them, often wearing a combination of oversized military jackets and flannel. All of this helps to create a sense of the film being in an alternate past, but the most eye-catching visual aspect is the way the filmmakers make the film look like a comic book. The introduction that gives the film context is shown as an animated comic book, but then that theme is continued throughout the film. Many of the transitions between scenes are represented in comic panels. It is a fun and interesting style that definitely catches the eye.

Riot Girls is a genre-bending adventure that acts as a thrilling ode to misfits. Vuckovic had already shown her filmmaking skills with her short film, but now she has proven she can deliver a compelling feature length film. Not only do Vuckovic and Collins create an interesting alternate reality with Riot Girls, but they also deliver a feminist film with a couple of amazing women smashing the patriarchy. There may be some unanswered questions about the virus by the end of the film, but the primary focus of the rescue mission helps overshadow those questions. The film boasts a great ensemble cast, with Iseman and Kwiatkowski carrying the weight of the film on their able shoulders.  It’s hard not to love these two punks and the alternate reality of the film. This is a must see film for the misfits of the world.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

The Ranger

THE-RANGER-poster-final

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