2018, Unrated, Directed by Jenn Wexler, Hood River Entertainment/Glass Eye Pix/Shudder, 77 minutes
Blending genres can be quite a tricky business. In some cases it can pay off brilliantly like how From Dusk Till Dawn goes from a crime thriller to monster horror. But other times, it can miss spectacularly as in the case of 2017’s The Mummy, which couldn’t decide if it was horror, or franchise-building action. To say that Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger blends genres would be a bit of an oversimplification. Perhaps a more accurate description would be that it very successfully blends styles.
The film opens with our main character Chelsea as a child, and meeting a helpful Park Ranger (Jeremy Holm) as she’s dealing with a tragedy (which is revealed later on). He simply tells her that he will remember her and that she should remember him. Many years later, we pick up with a 20-year-old Chelsea (Chloë Levine), now part of a punk rock band. After one of their shows, the police show up to make drug-based arrests and one of their bandmates stabs an officer, prompting them to have to go on the run. Chelsea mentions that she owns a cabin up in the mountains, which she hasn’t been to since that incident as a child. As the band travels up there, the same Ranger is still around and recognizes Chelsea. He’s also rather disappointed that she’s hanging out with “punks”. Their obnoxious behavior and drug use raises his suspicions, and he begins to reveal a much darker side to him.
Some may be put off by the fact that the horror really doesn’t start until at least halfway into the runtime. This can be seen as both beneficial and detrimental. On the one hand, unless you’re a fan of punk rock dramedy, the first half may be difficult to sit through. However, at the same time, some of the best horror films start off as a completely different story or genre, then the horror takes over. And for the most part it works here. The standout performance is definitely that of Jeremy Holm as the Ranger. Honestly, it might have been more interesting to see the story from his perspective.
The other true “star” of the film would have to be the music. Not since Green Room has punk rock music played such a role in a film. It almost feels like the music itself is a character in its own right. Horror fans who love that style of music will thoroughly enjoy it. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the absolutely beautiful cinematography with the forest/mountain setting. There’s no shortage of campside slashers in the horror genre, but very few of them make use of their setting and atmosphere the way that The Ranger does. It’s all the more impressive when we consider that this was director Jenn Wexler’s feature directorial debut.
Overall, The Ranger makes for a unique and fun take on a tired slasher genre. The music is entertaining, and while it does suffer some of the tired old horror clichés, the Ranger himself is genuinely creepy, and hopefully we get a spinoff all about him!