THE RANGER is a pretty solid, pretty simple little horror movie about some punks in a remote cabin running afoul of a psychotic forest ranger. It’s a little more serious than that sounds, but in an interesting way, not a pretentious one. I believe it takes place some time in the ’80s, because there’s a Walkman but no cell phones, but otherwise it could take place any time in the last 35 years or so. Punks are timeless.
The story centers on Chelsea (Chloe Levine, The Defenders), whose family owns the cabin. She was there as a little girl when her uncle (Larry Fessenden, the Stan Lee of indie horror) died under grisly and not-yet-fully-explained-to-us circumstances. Now she gets pushed into bringing her friends there to hide out after her shithead boyfriend Garth (Granit Lahu) stabs a cop during a police raid at a punk show.
I mean, fuck that guy. The rest of their friends are nice and supportive, though, which I appreciate. Many slasher movies are undone by too much sniping and bickering, and that’s not the case here. Jerk (Jeremy Pope) and Abe (Bubba Weiler) are a couple who thankfully don’t fall victim to any historical homophobia, and Amber (Amanda Grace Benitez, ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE) is the friendly space cadet who isn’t offended to wake up and discover herself in the back seat of her own van that they stole to evade authorities for things she had nothing to do with. They’re all pretty sympathetic despite their foolish decision to stick by Garth. I guess he’s like Crispin Glover in RIVER’S EDGE, the psycho who drags all his friends down with him, but he has such a weasely Dave Franco kind of vibe that he doesn’t seem as scary.
Not that the rest of them are innocent. At the beginning of the movie they snort from two giant bricks of I guess a fictional drug called “Echo,” acquired for what they call their “new business.” Later, when one of them is injured, they decide to inject her with something like heroin as a painkiller, but causing her to o.d. Stupid. They’re also obnoxious to the ranger (Jeremy Holm, Mr. Robot, House of Cards) when they think he’s just an ordinary ranger. It’s kind of an odd fit because these aren’t RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD style cartoon punks. They all play their parts naturalistically.
Levine in particular is outstanding, conveying so much about her discomfort and trauma without words. Chelsea strongly fits one of the less discussed aspects of Carol Clover’s Final Girl rules: she’s the more observant one, the one who we see noticing the things we know are signs of trouble to come, that everyone else ignores because they don’t know they’re in a horror movie. And I like that she can be the more responsible one among them, worrying about the consequences of their actions or trashing the cabin or the forest, but she seems like less of a poser than the rest of them so it’s hard to peg her as “the good girl.” She’s just smart.
Holm as The Ranger kept reminding me of Patrick Warburton – a big deep voiced guy with a dry, weird sense of humor. He’s very much a horror villain in the tradition of the late ’80s/early ’90s slashers, when they could be sort of almost-tongue-in-cheek and have a killer whose murders are based around being a cop, doctor, dentist, Santa Claus, snowman, whatever, usually with puns involved. In The Ranger’s case, he likes to gorily mutilate young people for violating the regulations for visiting the forest.
They also seem to have made one version of the poster – I found this online, but I’m not sure what they use it for – designed to appeal only to the people who would watch the early 2000s DTV horror screeners I used to get and never get around to watching:
Ignore that poster. Forget I showed it to you.
If this were made in the ’80s I think there would be some added side characters in order to increase the body count. Which I wouldn’t be against. On the other hand, it would also likely have less convincing leads, played by older actors but acting younger. I like this better, this combination of serious tone and outlandish killer.
My favorite horrible thing he does is kind of subtle. When he confronts them outside a convenience store where they’ve been shoplifting, before they know he’s anything other than an authority figure who could bust them, he gives them safety tips, including to wear bright colors so hunters will see you. Amber points to her blue hair and asks “Is this bright enough for ya?” Later (SPOILER) the first act of violence is when, out of the blue, she gets sniped in the head. So I guess it wasn’t so much of a warning or a tip as a way to make his hunting easier. It kinda reminds me of how in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 they talk about bears and warn not to wear perfume and then one of the women puts on perfume right before Jason attacks her.
If the movie just stuck with what I’ve described here it would be mildly amusing. I think it pushes itself up a little higher with a revelation about the past and a late reveal of some bizarre shit that The Ranger is up to. Both Chelsea and The Ranger have more hangups than I realized.
This is the feature directing debut for Jenn Wexler, who also co-wrote (with Giaco Furino) and edited. Previously she directed two shorts and produced a bunch of indie horror movies for Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix. THE RANGER played at SXSW (pronounced “south-bee” in my opinion) and FrightFest UK in 2018 and will stream exclusively on Shudder soon, but it’s already on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Wouldn’t it be cool if there was an after credits scene that reveals you’ve been watching a dark reboot of YOGI BEAR? I think I checked, though.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.