BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL MOVIE REVIEW: THE RANGER
THE RANGER is a retro style punk vs park ranger slasher film with a Lisa Frank colour pallet. Directed by Jenn Wexler, written by Giaco Furino and Jenn Wexler, and produced by Heather Buckley.
In THE RANGER, we follow Chelsea (Chloe Levine) and her band of punk friends as they are on the run from police after a near-fatal run-in. The story starts at a party filled to the brim with punk bands, loud music, bright colours (ala Lisa Frank), and copious amount of drugs, which we find out, Chelsea’s boyfriend, Garth (Granit Lahu), had stashed in Chelsea’s backpack. Garth and his friends are planning to start a business selling the drugs.
While on the run, the gang stops at a diner to refuel and discuss a plan for their new business and where to go. Garth brings up a cabin that Chelsea’s uncle has in the woods as the perfect hideout for their situation but, Chelsea doesn’t want to take them up there because of bad memories of when she was a child there. Garth insists that they go and, unfortunately, with the two police officers entering the diner and lack a better plan and they have no choice, but to dash the van and head to the cabin.
On their journey up the mountain, they make a pit stop to resupply on beer and snacks where they have a run in with The Ranger (Jeremy Holm). From a few scenes prior in the film, we know that Chelsea and The Ranger know each other from her childhood. The Ranger tells them the mountain closed due to hunting season, but Garth is not having it; Any chance to stick it to the man, right? Chelsea defuses the situation, and the group continues to the cabin.
At the cabin, we find out that Chelsea’s uncle had died in those woods when she was a child. Having been told rabid wolfs attacked and ate most of her uncle. During this conversation with her friends in the living room of the cabin, her friends try to light a cigarette inside. Because of this, Chelsea brings up a rule her uncle had about only smoking on the porch. Garth, his anti-rules ways, refuse to listen to her.
After checking the cabin out, Chelsea takes a walk alone in the woods to think about her uncle and what had happened on the day he died. On her walk, The Ranger shows up to talk to her about that day, to see if she remembers him and what really happened. After this slightly awkward conversation, Chelsea returns to the cabin to find her friends spray painting trees and carelessly lighting fires, leading to a big argument between Garth and Chelsea. Ultimately interrupted by one of their friends being shot by a high calibre rifle from far away.
Panicked, the group tries to bring their friend back to the van and to a hospital to find the van is gone. Without many more options, the group splits up as Garth and Chelsea head to the fire watch tower to get help from The Ranger, leaving their friends to get picked off one by one, and sending Chelsea onto the path to remembering what happened that fate-filled night and straight into the wolf’s den.
I absolutely enjoyed this move. Each character’s unique attitudes and personalities making me love and hate them all at the same time. Not just with the writing, but the cast was great and were all believable in their roles. The dialogue and visual subtleties are great. Realizing some of those subtleties days after I saw the film made me love it even more. Jokes and the death scenes were fantastic as well with some interesting kill scenes and Jeremy Holm flawlessly delivering a park violation for every situation.
If the level of subtle details, humour, and casting in this film is what I can expect from Jenn Wexler and her team, I happily await what is next to come.
And if you visit a national park, remember…Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.
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[What The Fest?! 2018] THE RANGER Is Nostalgia Done Right
Imagine this. You’re fifteen, staying up late with a group of your best buds, pizza piping hot with sodas in hand. Before you lies a VHS tape in a red case. You know what that means: this movie doesn’t fuck around. Before you pop the edge of the plastic inserts that hold the case shut your brain is already conjuring images dripping the same crimson red of the case in your hand. The tape slips into the player, the buzz of tracking adjusting on your set. There’s no turning back now from the potential dangers that lie ahead, your heart skipping a beat in gleeful anticipation. Now stop for a second! In your mind, what does that movie look like? What feelings do you get, placing yourself into that stock scenario of every horror fan that was ever inducted into this dark club at a young age? Is it a Creepshow, or Halloween? The anxious excitement the first time you sneakily watched The Exorcist? Those feelings, that exciting first discovery, are shared with the filmmakers of The Ranger, a monument to the nostalgic childhood of Blockbuster Kids.
Directed by Jenn Wexler, The Ranger introduces us to Chelsea, a bundle of uncertain anxieties. She’s just narrowly escaped getting busted by the cops at an underground punk show in Boston with two bricks of a popular street drug called Echo, but also her boyfriend just stabbed a cop and with their three other friends they decide to lay low at Chelsea’s Uncle’s cabin in New York state, the site of a tragic event a decade before that left her Uncle dead. Also on the mountaintop where Chelsea’s cabin is is our titular character: The Ranger. Equal parts Smokey the Bear and Maniac Cop, The Ranger has a connection to Chelsea’s past that sets her apart from almost every Final Girl out there. What works the most in The Ranger is the unexpected, much like the film itself which has crashed onto the scene making it one of the most hotly buzzed horror films on the festival circuit, and for good reason. This is a tight 80m callback to the 80’s slasher of our millenial youth, but it wonderfully strikes that delicate balance that most films of this nature fail to do: being its own film first.
But, this is a slasher movie, and by their nature they aren’t perfect films. The hardest balancing act for slashers to do is the give and take of likeability in the characters. Look, we want to root and cheer when our big bad killer knocks these kids off, but we also have to be on their side somewhat. Now when I watch films that feature teenagers, or at least a subset of kids that I can recognize myself in when I was that age, I always ask myself: was I really that much of a dick? I thought I was pushing the system, sticking it to the man in my own little way, but god. Was I ever as bad as the kids in this film! Probably, to a degree, but the filmmakers make it hard to root for these disposable teens (outside of our Final Girl Chelsea), even when I know I’m supposed to be. And look, Blood Rage is one of my favorite slasher movies, so this aversion isn’t to unlikeable characters being used as narrative devices, the problem is I had a hard time believing Chelsea would have stayed friends with this group for years. All the drugs in the world couldn’t shield her from their lack of empathy. Chelsea’s boyfriend Garth (Granit Lahu) seethes this Logan Paul-esque aesthetic of entitled douchebaggery while he runs around flirting with the sole other girl on their trip because OF COURSE he would. The other friends fare better, but not by much. Though this is a testament to the actors, who play these hard to like characters with panache and makes you like them really as much as you possibly can, especially the punk rock power couple of Abe and Jerk, a refreshing inclusion of queer punk identity.
The film though finally clicked into place when our titular killer shows his true colors, dispensing Forest Rangers codes of conduct in a truly hilarious and brutal way. And for some slasher purists, they may be averse to the inclusion of this broadly comic sensibility to this tank of a villain, but I’ve personally always loved the wise cracking quasi-supernatural killers like Freddy Krueger or Sammi Curr from Trick or Treat, and here too The Ranger gives us the tiniest clues and throwaway lines to give fans a sliver of hope that he may return for a sequel. But typically in the past when we’ve seen this brand of ridiculous 80s slasher homages with a gimmick killer, it’s forced. Painfully forced. The over-the-top quality of these films that we loved in the 80s is pushed so much that they become camp. But not in The Ranger. This truly feels tonally like something you would have grabbed for a late night movie marathon back in high school, jacked up on caffeine and pizza grease, and despite the flaws that the film does have, it’s that experience that will make The Ranger a film fans will be flocking to when it’s released.
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[BEST OF BUFF 2018] THE RANGER (2018)
Society’s rejects face off against an unstoppable force of nature in the fun, exciting, and often hilarious horror flick THE RANGER. A group of punks need to outrun the cops in a hurry, so they retreat from the city to a cabin on a mountain owned by the family of one of their own, Chelsea (Chloe Levine, THE TRANSFIGURATION). The cabin was once owned by her uncle (an unmistakable and perfectly-cast Larry Fessenden, seen in flashbacks), who was supposedly ripped apart by wolves some years before. Once there, the gang is tormented by the omnipresent park ranger (Jeremy Holm), who objects to their freewheeling ways and lack of respect for the mountain in his charge. He has a very particular view of how to enforce the rules, which are as unmovable as the mountain itself, and as unforgiving in their enforcement as the predators that populate the woods.
THE RANGER is the feature film debut from cowriter-director Jenn Wexler, inspired by classic punks movies of the 1980s, including CLASS OF 1984 and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. It’s a subgenre firmly embedded in its particular decade, and Wexler captures the thrill of those old flicks without resorting to any of the tired standbys of period-specific references, dirtying up digital footage to mimic the grain of VHS, ironic self-deprecation, or any other gimmicks that too many use as a distraction from the lack of real substance.
But it’s not fair to THE RANGER to define it by what it isn’t. This is a pillar of lean storytelling, giving the audience just enough exposition to follow along while letting the performances and atmosphere do the rest. It’s effectively tense, as we watch a group of teens who are used to staying one step ahead of authorities find themselves utterly helpless when there’s nowhere to hide, discovering that what might count as survival skills in the city actually make you an easy target in the forest. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun, keeping you on edge until the last possible moment.
The heart of a movie like this are the characters, and THE RANGER is blessed with terrific performances all around, including the supporting actors who turn their characters into more than fodder for the killer, each with their own unexplored but palpable history. But it is Levine and Holm who anchor the film, bringing a sort of anti-chemistry that is terrific fun to behold. It can be interesting when hero and villain are mirror images of one another, but Chelsea and the Ranger barely seem like they’re from the same galaxy. These are two people who have no business breathing the same air yet are forced by circumstance into this preposterous situation, and neither is the sort to back down.
Though THE RANGER is a tribute to the slime and grime of classic punk movies, it’s very much a modern film, splitting the difference between the heightened exploitation of CLASS OF 1984 and the unflinching brutality of 2015’s GREEN ROOM. The violence is not downplayed — bullets genuinely pierce flesh, bear traps actually sever limbs — but it is used to illustrate precisely where the punks and the ranger fail to live up to their own standards. The ranger objects to smoking, swearing, graffiti, even dyed hair in his woods, but has no issue with using torture and murder to enforce these rules. Meanwhile, the punks have learned to live in the cracks of society, evading capture and bucking any social construct that stands between them and doing whatever they want, all of which is completely useless in their current predicament. You can outrun the authorities, but you can’t outsmart a forest. You can flip off a cop and applaud your own rebelliousness, but try the same with a wolf and you’re fucking dead.
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BUFF ’18 REVIEW: “THE RANGER” HAS HAD IT UP TO HERE WITH THESE DAMN PUNKS
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.
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[SXSW Review] ‘The Ranger’ Is An Unabashedly Punk Slasher Throwback
The Ranger, is – on its surface – a vibrant, vicious throwback to 80’s slashers with a unique visual flair. This is like saying punk subculture is – on its surface – people in leather jackets with a lot of piercings and even more product in their radically dyed hair. It’s an easy label to slap on something that is actively and enthusiastically doing its level best to kick your labels in the face.
The hook on Jenn Wexler’s feature directorial debut is baited well. A handful of teenage punk fugitives flee to a cabin in the woods only to run head-long into a malevolently dedicated park ranger. The line between these kids, who have near-zero regard for anyone in a pressed uniform, and the titular Ranger, a stickler for the rules to the point of gratuitous bloodshed, could not be drawn any clearer.
Working from a script by Giaco Furino and herself, Wexler directs with one of the most interesting eyes I’ve seen in a minute or two, using camerawork, color and pacing to exaggerate the clash between conflicting worlds of chaos and order. This is greatly assisted by Abbey Killheffer, who at times gleefully edits the film like a small child with a straight razor. I mean this in the nicest possible way. Portions of the movie are cut with the rhythm of a punk rock anthem, and it pairs well with the subject matter and soundtrack.
Leading the cast is Chloe Levine, who, with recent turns on Mr. Robot and The Defenders, is deservedly well on her way to going places. Her role as Chelsea is meaty, with plenty of nuances provided in the form of an appreciation for common courtesies her uber-rebellious brethren don’t share. This makes her something of an outcast among outcasts and that’s an enjoyable dynamic to watch.
Jeremy Holm plays The Ranger with a cheerful and meticulous maliciousness reminiscent of Dan Stevens in The Guest, though much of David’s creep factor was embedded in the prospect of such a person being mistakenly invited into your home. The Ranger’s eeriness is instead intertwined with the specter of indifferent, jackbooted authoritarianism violently intruding on your space. In either case, there’s something chilling about a man ending you with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.
The rest of the cast is rounded out with a semi-traditional slasher line-up of People Born to Die. Granit Lahu as Garth, Bubba Weiler as Abe, Jeremy Pope as Jerk, and Amanda Grace Benitez as Amber all range from intentionally unlikeable to genuinely sympathetic as needed, but their individual arcs aren’t as important as what they collectively represent; braggadocious babes-in-the-woods who have spitefully bitten the Powers-That-Be only to discover the Powers-That-Be have sharper teeth.
I readily admit I’m, at best, a tourist of punk subculture. I greatly appreciate the general aesthetic, but I don’t live there. That said, it’s impossible to discuss The Ranger in any meaningful way without also talking about the core ideologies of the punk movement.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the brilliant satire of punk mentality we saw in Return of the Living Dead. Suicide’s hilarious declaration that his attire is “a way of life,” while technically accurate, was a send-up of aggressively defiant counterculture for its own sake, though Wexler does play with that here as well. Chelsea’s too-punk-to-function cohorts revel in casual littering as a sneering finger to The Man, flaunting how little they care so exuberantly they often swing all the way back to walking, talking tropes. They grasp the general idea of punk as counterculture and benefit from its facilitation of familial bonding among the disenfranchised, but they’re also kind of missing the point. In fact, this theme of sheep-in-wolves’ clothing bleating futilely at the moon penetrates the movie to a point that would venture sharply into the realm of spoilers. (There will come a day; I’m not done with you by half, The Ranger)
The spirit of punk and what that means undoubtedly varies wildly from end of the subculture to the other, but to my understanding, it’s the idea of self-empowerment through the total embracement of a personal identity that some people – maybe most people – may not be willing to accept. And where the movie itself is concerned, I think a prime example of this is a homosexual relationship that, for once, is allowed to simply exist. Nobody points at it. It’s not haphazardly exposited in clumsy dialogue or a point of contention. It just is, without bravado or fanfare, with no need for explanation or apology. And when you look at the idea of punk through that lens, it becomes something everyone can relate to because everyone just wants to be allowed to exist in their own unique way. The real horror in The Ranger is the threat of a callous and stringent agent of arbitrary ‘normalcy’ extinguishing that unique existence simply because you’re not following ‘The Rules’.
While The Ranger is indeed a throwback to slashers of yore, Wexler doesn’t strictly adhere to ‘The Rules’ as established by her predecessors. The actual Slasher is not a traditional Slasher. The Final Girl is not a traditional Final Girl. Wexler’s very much doing her own thing here with a reckless regard for whether or not the viewer approves and heed my words, watching her continue to shed the trappings of tradition is going to be something to behold.
For many of the reasons listed above, and a few that would be a little too spoiler-specific, The Ranger isn’t going to be for everyone. But it’s not trying to be. At all. It’s an unapologetic movie fully confident in its own identity and central themes of self-acceptance and empowerment. This probably isn’t the correct nomenclature but, in that way, The Ranger is one of the most punk horror movies that has ever punked. It’s like a hot pink mohawk – if you’re not into it, it’s not meant for you anyway.
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Nightmare on Film Street
[Boston Underground Review] THE RANGER is a Wild, Punk Rock, Blood Splattered Ride
A splatterfest as unabashed and freewheeling as punk itself, The Ranger is a smart and inventive examination of genre and subculture. It’s also a promising directorial debut for Jenn Wexler. The Ranger is the type of film that heralds the arrival of a true horror talent.
A punk rock nature slasher, The Ranger makes that strange combo seem like a natural extension of our most beloved 80’s horror films.
The Ranger tells the story of Chelsea, a punk who doesn’t feel entirely at home even in a subculture that preaches free expression and embracing a misfit identity. She’s haunted by a traumatic event from her childhood, and is more at home in nature than she cares to admit to her friends. When a raid on a punk club leads to violence, Chelsea is compelled to lead her friends into the woods to hide out. But by journeying into the wilderness, Chelsea awakens the demons of her past, and she and her friends soon find themselves hunted by a ruthless killer.
On its surface, The Ranger is a fun and and stylish throwback slasher. It nails the aesthetic of 80’s punk culture, with a frenzied opening that feels like an authentic punk film of the time. Once the kids venture into the woods, the contrast of their bright hair, spray paint, and leather jackets against the muted brown of the trees is aesthetically something to behold. And once those blood splatters get in the mix, the fun really gets going.
The film is often wildly funny, campy, meta, and gleefully gory. In this way it’s a true throwback to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and the Scream series. And like those films, there’s some seriously smart genre commentary happening under the surface.
To say much more would risk spoilers. The script has some great surprises that eventually reveal a deeper thematic heart than the surface fun would suggest.
There’s always a risk that a balance of camp and sincerity could fall flat, but The Ranger pulls it off. Much of this is due to Chloe Levine‘s performance as Chelsea. She can convey a plethora of conflicting emotions with a single look. Her talent is what makes the serious side of The Ranger work as well as it does. Chelsea is also arguably the anchor of the film. Her character is a fascinating examination of the Final Girl trope. The film goes all in with the concept of the Final Girl as the killer’s foil, and takes the trope to some new and fascinating places.
The supporting cast don’t get the same depth to work with as Levine, but they make for a satisfying and diverse group of victims. I’m happy to report that Wexler pointedly avoids the problematic tropes of slasher victims. Despite some of their flaws and naivete, the punks are a found family of misfits that you can’t help but root for. Especially Abe (Bubba Weiler) and Jerk (Jeremy Pope), who compose a gay couple that is handled perfectly. Their sexuality exists no differently than that of any of the other characters, and it was a wonderfully refreshing choice. All the punks save for Chelsea make the sort of fatally dumb choices that are par for the course in the genre. Some of these decisions do make fully connecting with them a bit difficult. But it’s all part of the fun. The final girl needs to stand apart. And boy does she.
One of the film’s thematic strengths is its commentary on punk culture and subculture in general. The punks follow their own set of rules of behavior that are not that far off from the ones enforced by authority figures, like the titular Ranger.. Over the course of her struggle to survive, Chelsea finds a way to get in touch with the spirit of punk in a different way.
The success of any slasher depends on its villain, and The Ranger delivers. The killer is more Freddy Krueger than Michael Meyers. He’s got a good balance of humor and creepiness. A good slasher villain is eighty percent concept, and the originality of The Ranger’s killer goes a long way.
For any fan of the fun, over the top slashers that defined much of the 80’s, The Ranger is a throwback treat you won’t want to miss. It’s occasionally unfocused, but it’s smart enough to hold up under scrutiny. This is a punk rock slasher after all. It’s supposed to be loud, wild, and messy. The Ranger is all those things, and more. It’s a great genre remix that gets to the heart of why horror fans keep coming back for more.
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SXSW Review: ‘The Ranger’ Is A Faithful Horror Throwback With A New Iconic Menace
Horror is a film genre that goes through cycles. Somebody has a great, subversive, scary idea that taps our collective subconscious. Then the concept gets imitated, and stretched thin through a series of sequels, until eventually it is treated as a parody of itself and we all laugh knowingly at it, defanging it. At which point, hopefully, a new idea has entered the pop culture ether. Which is why it’s so rare to find a new horror film that is inspired by its predecessors without paying tribute — one that’s having fun, without poking fun. A film that plays like an unearthed entry in a previous era of scary movies, yet still breaks a certain amount of new ground within its type. The Ranger, the first feature directed by longtime film producer Jenn Wexler, pulls off just such a feat. It’s not trying to redefine the genre or start a new cycle. Instead, it feels like a movie I could have picked up in the horror aisle of my local video rental joint at any time in my youth — a VHS tape that has been sitting on a shelf, forgotten since the 1980s, and somehow just now got noticed.
Only the image quality is way better, obviously.
The obligatory teens at the center of The Ranger are a group of unruly punk rockers, who run into some trouble with the law and decide to head for the hills… or, really, the mountains. Chelsea (Chloe Levine) leads her friends to her uncle’s old abandoned cabin, tucked away in the midst of national forestland. They leave their van by the road and hike up with nothing but some stolen six-packs and a shit-ton of Echo (a pink, powdery drug that you can snort or inject — a hybrid high of every other drug you can imagine). But their arrival is noticed by the local ranger (Jeremy Holm), who will do anything to make sure visitors obey the rules of the national park. In a flashback, we see that the ranger met Chelsea when she was a child, on the day her uncle died, and forged a bond with her that he remembers to this day.
You know the kind of bond I’m talking about. The creepy kind.
You also probably know where this story is going from the start, but that doesn’t mean you’ll recognize every twist as it’s happening. The punks are picked off one by one, in effectively gruesome and surprising ways, until the climax reveals that there is more to the ranger’s lunacy than anyone could have predicted. The final showdown is as picturesque as it is viscerally brutal to witness — and ultimately very satisfying. The punk soundtrack and aesthetic, like the made-up drug and the lack of cell phones, lends a timelessness to the film. Though the story may feel like a throwback, it doesn’t really take place in any particular time at all. What betrays its more modern perspective is the diverse cast of characters, which don’t fall easily into the usual stereotypes. Chelsea is a tough loner, looking for a place to belong. Her boyfriend may have dragged her into trouble, but she didn’t mindlessly follow him down that path. She is her own agent. With her friends she has formed a fucked-up surrogate family, prone to squabbles and flirting and none too healthy, but as the stakes rise the group always sticks together.
The characters are ultimately what sets The Ranger apart from its inspirations, and nowhere is that more true than in the titular Ranger himself. You may recognize Jeremy Holm from roles on House of Cards or Mr. Robot, but what he brings to his villain in this film is an unhinged blend of upstanding authority and unsettling menace. When I say that his performance, and the role itself, reminded me strongly of Larry Drake in the severely underappreciated Dr. Giggles, please understand that I mean this as a very high compliment indeed.
Drake took his campy doctor-themed baddie seriously — he relished the inherent cheese, but didn’t play it with a wink and a grin. Holm manages the same feat, rolling all the silly park-themed one-liners off his tongue with just the right amount of authentic venom. Not every horror icon is defined by a single weapon, or a weakness, or a frightening origin. And not all of them end up spawning sequels. So while it may be too early to tell whether Holm will return to guard the National Forest the only way he knows how in a future installment, for now, I’d say that The Ranger, and The Ranger, works pretty wonderfully as an off-beat and exciting new icon of horror. I haven’t seen a movie quite like it, but it already feels like I grew up watching it. Now if only they’d release it on VHS…
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The Austin Chronicle
SXSW Midnighters Go Into the Woods With The Ranger
We’re all familiar with the unbreakable rules that apply to characters in horror movies, just like every good horror geek knows that a legitimately top-notch shocker must subvert those a priori assumptions. Still, rules are rules:
Resist the urge to take shelter in an isolated cabin far from functional roads and lacking easy egress.
Never trust authority figures, be they cops, parents, motel managers, or really just anyone who tells a character to “just cool down and let’s figure things out.”
The axiomatic cell phone conundrum: the more desperately a character requires those precious five bars, the less likely they will be able to get any reception whatsoever unless (of course) the call is coming from the basement.
“Actually that was one of the best things that could have happened to us,” laughed Jenn Wexler, director of The Ranger. “When we got up to the woods, in the middle of nowhere [in the Woodstock area of the Hudson Valley], none of the cell phones worked. Usually, as a producer I’d be like, ‘What the fuck? Now we have to figure this out.’ But from a directorial perspective, it was just the opposite. ‘Yeah! Nobody can be looking at their phone, everyone has to just be in the moment.’ It was awesome.”
You can count the number of classic-to-crappy genre films that deploy the by-now-ossified foreboding forest location cliche on the fingers and toes of all of Jason’s victims and still have plenty of mediocre maniac movies left over. Not so with The Ranger, which pits a quintet of on-the-lam punk rockers against Jeremy Holm’s ecologically overenthusiastic Forest Ranger. A prologue sets up a mysterious bond between bubblegum-pinked punk Chelsea (a fantastic Chloe Levine) and the Man in the Campaign Hat, but the script, co-written by Wexler and Giaco Furino, drops emotionally charged red herrings like bear scat in, uh, the woods. Produced under the aegis of Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix, Wexler’s directorial debut keeps even jaded horror fans guessing at what the hell’s going to happen next.
Much of The Ranger‘s adrenal-jarring effectiveness comes not from the gore (of which there is plenty) but from the unknowable other member of the cast, the forest itself. Director of photography James Siewert – another Glass Eye alum – initially shoots the timberland as both a sun-dappled and presumably safe haven for the runaway punks before dialing down the daylight and creeping into a nightfall painted in the hues of paranoiac despair. Without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say that The Ranger‘s tree-tagging punk rockers have a perfectly sane reason to run into the woods with little but flashlights, despite the recurring motif of potential lupine evisceration and that stern-looking representative of the Department of the Interior.
“I’ve always loved ‘kids in the woods’ movies,” Wexler explained, “and so when it came time for me to direct my own movie, I really wanted to explore that.”
Does she have a top three “kids in the woods” films? “Whoa, let me think for a second. I’m definitely a fan of Evil Dead, the Friday the 13th movies, and then for sure Cabin in the Woods, which takes the whole idea and turns it on its head. I’m into meta-type movies like that. When my co-writer and I started working on the script we kind of wanted to go with that Cabin in the Woods-style movie, but then I really wanted to infiltrate it with tons of pink and Lisa Frank colors. I knew I’d never seen a cabin-in-the-woods kind of movie with that kind of look and style to it, but that was something that I thought we could really explore, you know?”
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The Ranger teaser warns against dangerous woodland predators
In Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut, The Ranger, a group of young punks get in trouble with the cops and flee the city. Fueled by a hallucinogenic drug called Echo, they hope to lie low in the woods, only to find themselves pitted against the local authority — an unhinged park ranger with an axe to grind.
“Jeremy Holm plays the ranger,” says Wexler, whose previous credits include producing Mickey Keating’s Darling and Ana Asensio’s Most Beautiful Island. “He’s in Mr. Robot and House of Cards and he’s just f—ing awesome. I can’t wait for people to see him in this movie. Chloe Levine, who’s in The Defenders and The OA on Netflix, plays one of the punks named Chelsea. Then we have Amanda Grace Benitez, who’s in All Cheerleaders Die, and Bubba Weiler, and Granit Lahu, and Jeremy Pope. It’s a great ensemble cast.”
Wexler co-wrote the script for The Ranger with an old friend, Giaco Furino.
“We went to college in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts and this was his, like, senior screenplay,” says Wexler. “I was always so obsessed with the idea of punks vs. a park ranger. I felt that was something that should already exist in the world! [Laughs] There should already be some ’80s movie about punks that go up against a park ranger. So I always loved the concept, and then later, when I figured out how to make movies, I was like, ‘Yo, Giaco! Find that script and let’s make this!’”
The Ranger will make its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 12. More information about the film’s screening schedule can be found at the official SXSW website. Watch the just-released teaser trailer above, and check out the poster below.
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Check out the chilling poster for SXSW horror-thriller The Ranger
In director Jenn Wexler‘s SXSW-bound directorial debut The Ranger, a group of young punks get in trouble with the cops and flee the city. Fueled by an hallucinogenic drug called Echo, they hope to lay low in the woods, but the punks find themselves pitted against the local authority — an unhinged park ranger with an axe to grind.
“Jeremy Holm plays the ranger,” says Wexler. “He’s in Mr. Robot and House of Cards and he’s just f—ing awesome. I can’t wait for people to see him in this movie. Chloe Levine, who’s in The Defenders and The OA on Netflix, plays one of the punks named Chelsea. Then we have Amanda Grace Benitez, who’s in All Cheerleaders Die, and Bubba Weiler (The Good Fight), and Granit Lahu (The Sinner), and Jeremy Pope. It’s a great ensemble cast.”
Wexler co-wrote the script for The Ranger with an old friend, Giaco Furino.
“We went to college in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts and this was his, like, senior screenplay,” says Wexler. “I was always so obsessed with the idea of punks vs. a park ranger. I felt that was something that should already exist in the world! [Laughs] There should already be some ’80s movie about punks that go up against a park ranger. So, I always loved the concept, and then later, when I figured out how to make movies, I was like, ‘Yo, Giaco! Find that script and let’s make this!”
Although Wexler is a first-time director, she is certainly not lacking experience behind the camera, having recently produced Mickey Keating’s films Darling and Psychopaths, Robert Mockler’s Like Me, and Ana Ansensio’s Most Beautiful Island, which was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the recent Independent Spirit Awards. Wexler is currently performing the same role on Depraved, a reimagining of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein being made by indie-horror notable and The Ranger cast member, Larry Fessenden.
“We’re in the middle of shooting,” says Wexler. “I don’t want to speak too much to it, but everything about it looks awesome, including the monster, and I know Larry’s really excited to hop into the editing room.”
The Ranger will receive its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 12. More information about the film’s screening schedule can be found at the official SXSW website.
The Ranger is produced by Wexler, Fessenden, Andrew van den Houten, Ashleigh Snead, and Heather Buckley. The film is exec-produced by Darryl Gariglio, Giles Daoust, and Catherine Dumonceaux.
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Screen Anarchy: THE RANGER Is Silly, Sloppy, Slashy Punk Rock Fun In The Woods
There is a deep and undeniable connection between punk music and horror films that goes back decades. From the very beginning of the punk music movement in the ’70s, bands and fans used horror imagery to separate themselves from those around them. In my own personal journey of discovery as a budding horror fan, punk music played a pivotal part in connecting the dots between my internal raging anger and its obvious violent expression on film. All of this to say that I’ve always been surprised at how infrequently this seemingly indisputable relationship has been exploited on film.
Director Jenn Wexler’s debut feature, The Ranger, is the latest the a relatively small oeuvre of punk rock horror films, and it is one that takes the energy and explosive enthusiasm of the music and attempts to give it life on screen. It isn’t entirely successful in putting a new classic on the table for fans to adore, it’s definitely a heaping helping of bloody, obnoxious fun, and sometimes that’s all I’m looking for.
Punk rocker Chelsea (Chloe Levine) and her snotty punk pals get caught up in a police raid at a show and go on the run to avoid getting picked up with a huge quantity of a new party drug called “echo”. When one of the punks stabs a cop while saving Chelsea from certain doom, the crew decides it’s time to go underground and they head into the woods of upstate New York. Chelsea’s uncle had a cabin in the woods where they can hide, but these woods hold a lot of conflicting memories for her, and soon her past catches up with her in the form of a deranged ranger with an axe to grind. Literally.
The Ranger (Jeremy Holm, House of Cards, Mr. Robot) wants Chelsea all to himself, and will plow through her friends one-by-one to get to her. There’s a complicated history between the two involving Chelsea’s uncle, played silently by New York indie horror legend Larry Fessenden, and his unfortunate violent demise. She’s not having it, though, so The Ranger goes on a spree, dispatching her friends in predictably violent ways, all to a frenetic punk rock soundtrack.
In punk terms, The Ranger definitely share the same kind of energy as the early ’80s pre-hardcore music scene. A bit sloppy around the edges, the film at times trades enthusiasm for polish, resulting in a final product that is impossible to take seriously, but at the same time doesn’t ask that of its audience. The film’s characters, apart from Chelsea, are the kind of obnoxious cartoon punks that make normal folks uncomfortable, but the shallow characterizations reinforce the go-for-broke tone and allow the audience to identify more with Chelsea, though I would’ve loved to know her compatriots as more than just a bunch of irritating party kids.
I’ve stated publically on this site on more than one occasion that 1985 punk horror classic, The Return of the Living Dead, is my favorite film of all time, and while it’s perhaps unfair to compare two films, it’s also inevitable. The Ranger doesn’t reach those heights by any stretch, but it’s a competent, fun, bloody, and energetic addition to the canon of punk horror films that its creators can be proud of. A lot of my issues feel like the follies of an excitable first time director, but then again, they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the film so I can still give it a solid recommendation for fans of low budget indie horror, and not that hi-falutin’ artsy fartsy stuff. This is a fun throwback with a killer soundtrack and enough solid kills in its 77 minutes (was that on purpose? if so, kudos) to sate spiky haired gorehounds everywhere.
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Front Row Boston
How Boston’s Punk Scene Influenced Horror Film The Ranger
A group of teens sit at a table in a graffiti covered club that throbs with music. They experiment with drugs, crash onto the dance floor, and party with the free joy of their youth – until the cops come crashing in. In short order, things go from bad to worse as they attack an officer, steal a van, and hide out in a closed-down state park… only to end up in the crosshairs of an unhinged park ranger. At its core, The Ranger is a film about the clash between self-expression and conformity, of self-determination vs. oppressive authority. About finding yourself in a world that tries to tell you how you should be. Currently making its way through the festival circuit – including this past weekend at our own Boston Underground Film Festival – The Ranger‘s message is loud and clear, not only in plot, but in the blindingly pure punk aesthetic of its wicked cool wardrobe and solid soundtrack.
But unlike a lot of the films that are marketed to us so-called ‘alternative’ folk, the punk scene had always been intrinsic to the film in Director/Producer Jenn Wexler’s mind. First outlined to her by Giaco Furino while the two attended college, the plot was foremost in Wexler’s mind when she decided to take the plunge into directing a feature-length film. The two quickly turned a handful of notes into a script – and it was nearly three years ago, at a bar in Montreal, where she first handed the script to Heather Buckley, a producer known for her leather jackets, spurs and Soo Catwoman hair.
“Right away the characters sounded like my punk friends,” Buckley says. “But what would the music sound like?”
This is where our journey begins.
“As I read the script I put down in the notes what type of punk music would be good from this film.” Heather Buckley, Producer
Buckley grew up in New Jersey; It was at the age of 13 that she first heard “God Save the Queen” the second single from the Sex Pistols: “I was transformed,” she recalls. “That was the sound of what was inside me.”
Buckley went to punk shows at CBGB‘s in NYC, and, while visiting her sister at college, Lupo’s in Providence. That’s where she discovered more Boston-based bands. “The Unseen, Darkbuster, The Pinkerton Thugs, the Ducky Boys …”
“Once I made a boyfriend drive up from New Jersey to The Middle East [in Cambridge] in a snowstorm to see The Big Bad Bollocks,” she tells me. “And the first time I saw the Dropkick Murphys was when they opened for Agnostic Front.” She goes on to name other local favorites: “… Gang Green, The Street Dogs, Blood for Blood, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Allstonians, and The F.U.s.”
Buckley’s passion for Boston punk comes as no surprise. The scene has always been connected to the one she grew up around in New York City. “I think the unity between the two scenes has something to do with our direct, hard-edged character and similar senses of humor.” she tells me. I think she’s right. The origins of both can be traced back to Proto-punk and Anarcho-punk; first generation sub-genres from the UK that are known for their stripped-down, do-it-yourselfwork ethic, a concept not lost on those who chose to live and practice art on the East Coast.
But that being said, what you’ll hear used in the movie is decidedly not all East Coast. “The soundtrack had to express the vibe and culture of the kids.” Buckley says. Wexler agrees: “I wanted to underscore the themes with a soundtrack that spans different sub-genres of punk and reminds you of your old favorite mixtape.”
Both wanted to capture the sound and vibe of circle pits (mosh pits/slam dancing) and Skate punk, both younger sub-genres and cultures that did not come from New York or Boston, but California. But for that, Buckley and Wexler were going to need help – and that’s when they started working with promoter Middagh Goodwin.
“That is still one of the most endearing qualities of punk, we are an extended family.” – Middagh Goodwin, Music Supervisor
Goodwin grew up in Southern California, and went to his first punk show in 1981 (he was in the 8th grade). “It was Black Flag at Artesia High School,” he remembers. “It was one of [Henry] Rollins’ first shows with the band. The energy they brought was incredible, and most people had no idea what was going on. Especially at that time, there was no line between the band and the audience – we were all in it together.”
From that moment, it was a done deal – Goodwin has now been booking California-based punk bands for over 30 years. And with credentials like that, it’s no surprise that he was quickly brought on as the Music Supervisor for The Ranger. “I watched it once through with the sound on to get to know the story and the characters,” he says. “After that, I watched the film muted numerous times, just listening to songs to see how they would work. The songs had to fit the mood, the tempo and movement of the scene.”
The audience can expect to hear deep cuts from The Avengers, Authorities, Dayglo Abortions, FANG, The GRIM, and relatively new bands like The Atom Age, The Nerv, The Lobstrosities, The Polyester Wags, and Rotten UK (who also perform live in the film). It’s a great soundtrack, and really helps build the world the characters inhabit. Which makes sense when Goodwin compares a good soundtrack acts to a supporting character in a film.
“The Ranger would have been a totally different movie without a legitimate punk soundtrack.” He asks: “Can you imagine, Return of the Living Dead or Repo Man without the soundtrack?”
Like Buckley, Goodwin is also a fan of Boston punk. “I love a lot of Boston Ska, too,” Goodwin tells me. “Bosstones, Big D (and the Kids), Westbound Train, The Allstonians. Boston bands have a unique sound unlike anything else.”
“…the first big thing I went to – maybe at 14 years old – was Bad Religion, in a field somewhere. I was totally transformed by it.” Jenn Wexler, Director/Producer
You’ll be happy to hear that ‘Team Ranger’ is enthusiastically planning on a physical soundtrack release. “The rumor is a limited pressing, double gatefold color vinyl to be released hopefully very soon,” Goodwin says. “I would love to see a new generation being introduced to all these bands, much like I was with the This is Boston, Not L.A. compilation.”
Buckley has a similar goal. “My hope is everyone loves The Ranger – and that the music helps influence and create the next wave of punk rockers.”
The Ranger stars Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, and Jeremy Pope. It’s currently doing a festival run and will be playing at the Chattanooga Film Festival next week.
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