By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
When a buncha punk kids are outrunning the law, they choose the wrong mountain as their hideout in THE RANGER. The feature directorial debut from much-celebrated producer Jenn Wexler (DARLING, MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND) promises a Technicolor bloodbath in the woods and it absolutely delivers.
Chelsea (Chloe Levine, THE TRANSFIGURATION) stars as the pink-haired punk girl in the city. Even as she tries to keep up with the partying and drug consumption of her friends we can tell right away that Chloe is an outsider within this band of outsiders. Sure, she has street smarts and can think on her feet, but these life skills carry beyond the pavement of New York. When a getaway goes sour and her gang needs to escape the city fast, Chloe offers up her uncle’s abandoned cabin in the woods.
Before this crew makes it to the cabin they have an encounter with The Ranger (Jeremy Holm). Given the punks’ hatred of “pigs” and nearly any authority figure in a government-issued uniform, this meeting intensifies quickly. But hang on- Chloe already knows The Ranger. Previous to this chance meeting we have seen that Chloe and The Ranger have met in the past, and they have a trauma based-bond which runs deep between the two.
Here is one of the aspects of THE RANGER that saves it from becoming just another “kids in the woods” movie. Chloe is smart, and has a deep dark past. By taking her friends to her uncle’s cabin she must revisit this past, and she cannot ignore how The Ranger has impacted her life. Chloe’s punk ways and dyed hair are never chalked up to previous trauma, or as a way for her to rebel against her past. That interpretation would be disrespectful to the punk music that has helped her heal and the punk scene friends she has made along the way. But what THE RANGER does do is effectively take the time to build up a multidimensional character, who just so happens to have pink hair, and her force into confronting her past.
This is not to say that THE RANGER is all about a young woman’s emotional journey. Her friends are kind of scummy, and the moment they are introduced in the film you will look forward to watching them die painful and creative deaths. They are disrespectful to nature and authority, and this discourtesy does not escape the attention of The Ranger. Holm is pitch-perfect here as an overzealous enforcer. He rules that mountain and is not about to let those city punks desecrate the government-owned preserve. Even with his clear agenda and unrelenting determination to protect the land, his history with Chloe saves him from being a cartoon. He’s got a bit of a soft spot, but not quite enough tenderness to dissuade him from being a killing machine.
With this balance of character development and carnage THE RANGER pays homage to its predecessors without being a mimeograph of them. It does not feel like a factory created slasher or just another throwback gore fest; it feels like a film that has a lot of affection for both the punk community and the history of horror and wants to be a new entry into both those worlds
THE RANGER played last weekend to a delighted crowd at the Boston Underground Film Festival, earning Wexler runner-up for Best First Feature. It will play What the Fest in New York City this weekend and the Chattanooga Film Fest the following week. Keep an eye out for this one.