The Ranger Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Hood River Entertainment
Directed by Jenn Wexler
Written by Giaco Furino, Jenn Wexler
2018, 77 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest European premiere on 23rd August 2018
Chloe Levine as Chelsea
Jeremy Holm as The Ranger
Granit Lahu as Garth
Jeremy Pope as Jerk
When one of their number stabs a cop and steals his gun, a gang of punks flee the city to a dilapidated cabin in the woods, owned by the family of pink-haired dissenter Chelsea. Unfortunately, their plan begins to fall apart when they encounter a demented Park Ranger; a sinister figure from Chelsea’s past and stickler for the national park rules. And he’s not a fan of what Chelsea’s done to her hair either.
Horror might be the most punk genre, but there’s a curious lack of movies about actual punks (obvious elephant in the green room aside). Punk vs Murderous Authority Figure is a no-brainer, and yet the closest we’ve gotten to it in recent years is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake – and those were hippies. Just imagine the mess Sheriff Hoyt would have made with a vanload of coloured-hair punk kids. Or the Maniac Cop, for that matter.
Jenn Wexler’s black comedy slasher film is here to redress the balance somewhat, and even if the Ranger isn’t a real cop, he certainly represents The Man where these kids are concerned. An aviator-wearing, lantern-jawed Patrick Warburton archetype, this Park Ranger takes no guff. Although Jeremy Holm cuts a more ridiculous figure than expected, he’s no slouch in the brutality department; The Ranger is shockingly violent and gory when it gets down to it.
This is bathed in '80s-style hot pink and neon colours, and even as the deaths shock and horrify, they’re rarely upsetting (unlike, say, the atrocities of Sheriff Hoyt), reminiscent of a late Nightmare on Elm Street sequel in their vividity. Maybe if some of the characters were more likeable (to me), the Ranger’s violence might have had a different effect – as it is, I spent most of the film waiting for the majority of these punk kids to shut up and die. The punks are too obnoxious and idiotic to root for, the Ranger too zany and bizarre to hate. As I sat and quietly rooted for its villain, The Ranger made me feel old and decidedly not-punk.
Perhaps that’s the point though, as the film presents its punks not as glamorous, aspirational figures but immature idiots full of empty sound and fury – while ‘The Man’ is the truly fucked up one, in spite of his tucked-in shirt and clean shave. Chloe Levine’s conflicted, maturing Chelsea is the bridge between the two, delivering a powerhouse performance that grounds the whole film, even during its sillier moments. Hers is a horror film debut reminiscent of The VVitch's Anya-Taylor Joy or The Guest's Maika Monroe, and marks her out as one for genre fans to watch. And it’s her Chelsea that gets the audience back on side too, preventing The Ranger from being all about its villain, and leading into one of the most exciting, nasty and personal horror movie showdowns I’ve seen.
Beautiful, difficult, loud and messy, The Ranger is intrinsically punk, and the most exciting horror movie debut – for director and actress alike – in years.