The Ranger, 2018.
Directed by Jenn Wexler.
Starring Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, and Larry Fessenden.
It’s the 1980s and a group of punks get busted selling drugs. Because a police officer gets fatally wounded in the showdown, Chelsea offers up her uncle’s cabin in a nearby national park as a hideout. There they cross paths with an officious ranger who has a weird connection to Chelsea’s past and will stop at nothing to enforce every single safety regulation even if it means resorting to the deadliest of means.
The Ranger opens with a plunge into an 80’s inspired, punk-aesthetic. I say 80’s inspired, as despite being billed as a film set in the 80s, there are enough anachronisms dotted about the place to make you question exactly when the film is set. Is this a bad thing in and of itself? No. But this lack of attention bleeds into the rest of the film, blurring its focus.
The premise of the film is simple: a bunch of friends go to a cabin in the woods to escape the eyes of the police. While at the cabin, bad shit (death) happens. Jeez, haven’t heard that one before.
Now before you avert your eyes completely, I must stress that The Ranger isn’t just a rehash of previous slasher films and cabin horrors. The preppy high-schoolers have been replaced by punk rockers (yay?) and the villain isn’t just some silent/immortal/supernatural creature (actually yay). Instead, the villain is a park ranger. And he’s pretty funny.
While your run of the mill slasher flick would kill off its secondary characters without so much of a whisper, the ranger dispatches the with a smile and a one-liner. Though some of the jokes fall flat, most of his ranger themed puns hit their mark.
The problem is, the ranger doesn’t get to go on his killing spree until at least halfway through the movie. It seems that the filmmakers did this to give the main cast of characters some weight and make them into more than just bags of guts ready to be spilled. That would be all well and good if the film had stuck to being the drama it set out to be in the opening moments, but, as mentioned, it doesn’t. It turns into a comedy, and a reasonably good one at that, but one that wastes the forty minutes that came before it. Despite my love of good character dramas and character development in horror, even I would have preferred to see The Ranger go balls to the wall and become Yogi Bear: The Murder Years. After all, when it does go all out, it does it so well! The story is ridiculous, and the practical effects a gnarly as hell, even if the poor sound mixing takes some of the punch away.
In essence, The Ranger tries to do more than the average slasher, but tries to do too much. If it had stuck to its guns and turned into a full-blown comedy/horror, it would have been very good. As it is, it’s just good. It’ll kill some time, and you probably won’t hate it, but it’s too unfocused to make a real impact.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
James Turner is a writer and musician based in Sheffield. You can follow him on Twitter @JTAuthor