Fantasia 2018: Punk Horror Has A Wild Side In The Ranger
Jenn Wexler has cut her teeth in the horror genre as a producer on the likes of Darling and Psychopaths. Her directorial debut, The Ranger, will be kicking and screaming its way onto screens at Fantastia Film Festival on Monday 23rd July. This homage to 1980s slasher movies follows a group of young punks on the lam after being busted for selling their drug of choice, Echo, and stabbing a cop. Chelsea’s (Chloë Levine) uncle used to own a cabin in the woods, the perfect location for laying low for a while. As these city kids arrive in the woods with their loud music and disrespect for their surroundings, it’s only a matter of time until they encounter the park ranger (Jeremy Holm): a sadist with a penchant for the rules. Whatever fate they may have met in the city jails is no match to the horrors these kids face alone in the woods, as a twisting game of cat and mouse unfolds in the ultimate fight for survival.
It’s an interesting premise which runs the risk of re-treading familiar territory. Five kids alone in the woods with a psychopath picking them off. It’s really no spoiler or surprise that they’re hunted down one by one, leading up to a bloody battle between the killer and the film’s central character, Chelsea. However, there are a lot of interesting notes throughout The Ranger which makes it well worth a watch for fans of the punk-slasher genre.
Throughout the film, it’s evident that Wexler knows horror very well and how to play with the genre in a natural way. Her enthusiasm can be felt throughout. The film is very carefully constructed, with a lot of focus on setting the tone through stylistic elements. As the film opens, we see a young Chelsea in the woods and the ranger’s cabin, brightly lit, the lighting suggests a time of innocence. We’re then propelled into a loud, brash world of primary colours, the loud pinks, blues, and greens reflecting the rebellious path Chelsea has found herself on. The soundtrack is excellent, with the punk rock tracks complementing the scene, adding a sense of anarchy or urgency as needed. Costumes and props have also clearly been cleverly crafted. It’s as if Wexler stepped back in time to the ’80s with a high-definition camera. At no point did I find this world unbelievable, with the attention to detail really helping to establish the setting and the characters.
The five young actors who make up the core group are credible as a group of friends who have each other’s backs but are also capable of rubbing each other the wrong way. It was really encouraging to see a racially diverse cast with LGBTQ+ representation which didn’t feel like a forced inclusion of token characters. It was completely natural, a heartening breath of fresh air in the slasher genre. With the majority of the 70-minute runtime focusing on Chelsea’s journey, I couldn’t help but wish we could get to know more about the supporting cast. When they are given the chance to take centre stage, they each give great performances filled with conviction. There’s a lot more to each of their characters than the obnoxious snarls they hide behind. While their disrespectful behaviour grew tiresome at times, occasionally making them difficult to root for, Wexler included subtle reminders that they are just kids, lost in life.
Chloë Levine is a solid standout from the ensemble, excelling in the leading role. Pink-haired punk Chelsea is a great protagonist who sticks to her convictions and holds her own. She is reserved but confident, with a great depth to her character. Chelsea’s past is gradually revealed throughout the film, and it’s evident that there’s a sadness within her. As she returns to nature, it’s hard not to wonder if she became lost in the city’s vibrant punk movement as a means of escape from a difficult past. At one point she assertively tells her disrespectful boyfriend, Garth (Granit Lahu), that they have to face what they did or keep running, but it’s clear that Chelsea has been running for years: a lone wolf.
It’s no mistake that The Ranger was set in the woods. There’s a deep connection between Chelsea and the resilient spirit of nature, as well as Native American legends about wolves. Wolves have long been admired for their excellent hunting skills—a chilling but clever parallel to draw upon in a slasher flick. As a child, Chelsea was told, “You’re a wolf. Don’t you ever forget that.” Her return to the outdoors can be considered something of a coming home story, particularly as it ends ambiguously: has The Ranger unleashed a beast best caged, or is Chelsea finally free from a violent horror that haunted her past, embracing a liberating return to nature?
It’s in the plot and pacing that the film suffers most. The Ranger himself is played with great enthusiasm by Jeremy Holm. He’s especially toe-curlingly creepy during the film’s cold open as he serves a young Chelsea a sandwich with the crusts removed and a glass of milk. His deadpan delivery of the park’s rules and regulations make for some darkly comical scenes. However, his motivations are pretty unclear—is he mad at his victims for breaking the rules and disrespecting nature? Does he want to kill all Chelsea’s pals and have her to himself? Or is his murder rampage fuelled by tribal rituals? All of these possibilities are hinted at, but the film never clarifies the motivation behind his bloodlust. It’s nearly 40 minutes into the movie until the killing begins, and it’s all over quite quickly. Whilst the character development in this time is intriguing, it will likely leave the gore-hounds in the audience impatient. When it is delivered, however, Wexler pulls few punches, with a handful of unexpected tricks up her sleeve.
The Ranger is a fantastic character study of a young girl trying to find her way in the world, complemented with angsty punk music, excellent visuals, and occasional blood-splatter. The pitfalls it may have is more than made up for in heart by the creative team involved, crafting a careful love letter to the films that inspire them. The real joy is in watching a spitfire of a young girl stand up to a figure of authority abusing their power—what’s more punk than that?
Top | Link
9 To 5
Fantasia 2018: The Ranger
I have to admit I’m still a sucker when it comes to punks in films. Like many, I hold Return of the Living Dead very near to my heart, and I saw it shortly after it originally came out. Which was too early for me to have embraced the subculture yet, I think. Maybe at that age I just appreciated the countercultural look of these guys. And Trash was easily one of my first screen crushes.
So here we have Chelsea (pink-haired Chloe Levine) and her friends (Garth, Jerk, and Abe), perfectly introduced to us as they’re partying it up at a punk show. There’s drugs galore being snorted, big bags of it being sake kept in Chelsea’s backpack. Soon enough, the cops show up. Through the chaos, Garth (Granit Lahu, ostensibly the leader and Chelsea’s boyfriend)stabs one of the cops. The quartet is now on the run, but where to hide out? Turns out Chelsea knows a place out of the city. A cabin in the woods she lived in with her late uncle (Larry Fessenden) when she was a kid. Off they go, bringing along another one of their friends (blue-haired Amanda Grace Benitez).
We know from the opening scene that there is something dark that happened to Chelsea when she was a kid, and whatever happened was shared by a park ranger (Jeremy Holm). Her going back to the cabin seems to be triggering ghosts from her past. Sure enough, on the way there they bump into said Ranger, who at first doesn’t recognize the now-grown Chelsea but unsurprisingly, what with him being an authority figure, there’s already bad blood between he and the punks. As it turns out though, the ranger is batshit insane. Thus begins the hunt, and the truth behind Chelsea’s past.
Punks in film have a history of often being used as villains. And when they’re not, they’re often more anti-heroes than the more wholesome protagonists that are the norm. Even in the seminal punk classic Suburbia they are not shown in any kind of forced positive light (just look at the club scene near the beginning of the film, with its brutal public assault on a girl in public). Our gang here is not sugar-coated either. Chelsea remains the more level-headed of the bunch, though the film wisely keeps the mystery of what exactly happened to her until late in the film, making this more than a stalk-and-kill/survivalist romp.
It becomes evident once the action starts that things are not meant to be taken that seriously. Though the set-up is played straight, as is Chloe Levine’s performance which constantly hints at an uncomfortable inner struggle, the ranger himself is so over-the-top that the tone becomes one of almost-campy fun as opposed to anything resembling suspense or horror. Even when faced with the most stressful, life-or-death situations, some of the decisions and reactions that the characters make can’t help but be met with laughter. This is compounded, once again, by Jeremy Holm’s delivery. His performance is actually great. His quieter, early moments are actually subtly unnerving, but when he goes full-throttle psycho, all real-life subtleties are gone.
The characters are well-defined and engaging even if not always likeable, and the performances perfect. Chloe Levine is excellent in the lead. I was annoyed at a few instances in which things happened too predictably or unimaginatively, which tends to happen when you’ve seen so many genre movies; though it’s obvious that the filmmakers know the genre well, so it always bugs me and takes me out of the action when instances happen and I think to myself ‘’they really should have known better’’.
There is no pretense here about this being anything other than a visceral, bloody fun ride. And if you like your punk rock, you will be served.
Top | Link
THE RANGER FANTASIA 2018 FIRST LOOK REVIEW
First-time feature director’ can be a loaded term. It often implies inexperience – yet Jenn Wexler has not only written, directed and produced two short films (Slumber Party and Halloween Bash), but also produced several stylistically and thematically arresting indie titles by other directors, like Mickey Keating’s Darling and Psychopaths, Robert Mockler’s Like Me and Ana Asensio’s Most Beautiful Island. So she comes to The Ranger, her own feature debut as writer/director/producer, with considerable expertise. Basically, we are in safe (if bloody) hands.
Someone has (metaphorical) blood on their hands in the film’s opening sequence, a primal if partial scene in which a park ranger (Jeremy Holm) praises a very young Chelsea (Jeté Laurence) for being “a fighter today”, “a wolf” and “just the kind of spirit this park needs”, and then reassuring her, as the police pull up outside, “About what happened: we did what we could, no one will know.”
Years later, pink-haired Chelsea (Chloe Levine) hangs out with a crew of drug-dealing young punks in New York City. When, during a bust, her boyfriend Garth (Granit Lahu) stabs a policeman, the gang of four – including couple Jerk (Jeremy Pope) and Abe (Bubba Weiler) – decides to hole up at the remote old cabin where Chelsea had holidayed as a child with her late uncle (Larry Fessenden). Amber (Amanda Grace Benitez), whose van they have requisitioned, is happily along for the ride. The gang is there to make noise and get high, but Chelsea has returned to where she feels most at home – like one of the perennial flowers outside the abandoned cabin which, as she points out, “come back on their own.”
What follows is a Deliverance-style clash of cultures, as young urban anti-authoritarian outlaws come into collision with the same ranger, now an older, tight-assed stickler for park regulations, and more than happy to rid his park permanently of littering, drinking, drug-taking miscreants. Caught in the middle of the ensuing bloodbath, Chelsea must work out whether she is just more prey during ‘hunting season’, or the wolf that the ranger always said she was and wants her to be.
If the synthetic drug that these kids snort and sell is called ‘Echo’, then The Ranger too resonates with hallucinatory flashbacks to cinema past. For as Chelsea gets ever closer to confronting and embracing her childhood trauma, the film too looks back, to the blue-and-pink colour schemes of the Eighties, to the backwoods bellicosity of Southern Comfort, to the uniformed slasher sensibilities of Maniac Cop, and to the mythos of every cabin-in-the-woods movie since The Evil Dead. From all this there emerges a new anti-heroin(e), going cold turkey and rediscovering her animal instincts fully-formed.
Top | Link
Horror Movies CA
Fantasia 2018: The Ranger [Review]
Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time. Thus are the general rules of the forest-covered mountain. However, if you fall upon the park ranger, he’ll take away your life, leave you for dead, and kill everything but time. Come take a stroll within the woodlands of “The Ranger” which made its Canadian premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
Chelsea (Chloe Levine) hangs out with the wrong crowd. After her boyfriend murders a police officer following a drug-infested punk-rock show, she and her friends, along with a new girl added to their group, flee to take refuge in an old shack previously owned by her uncle, deep in the woods of a mountain. Once they stumble upon the park ranger, he smells that they’ll be up to no good with the way they dress and the manner they act. Only thing is: he’ll be the one up to no good once he begins to dismantle them for breaking forest rules, one by one.
Who doesn’t love a good slasher film with more-than-decent practical effects and a charismatic villain? “The Ranger” fulfills all of the above; without exceeding expectations, nor creating disappointments. I loved Jeremy Holm (“House of Cards” and “Mr. Robot”) who portrayed the Ranger. His aura, the way he spoke with confidence, bordering arrogance, and his general stance reminded me of an always-hilarious Rob Riggle. When you can present to me an actor who can pull off a charismatic villain without looking like he’s trying too hard, you’ve got me hooked. Although Chloe Levine plays a reluctant Chelsea within this entire punk-rock lifestyle, the rest of her gang, portrayed by Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler and Amanda Grace Benitez, are on-point with their performances as wreckless, careless and annoying young adults. The casting was well planned and the results onscreen are enjoyable.
As mentioned above, the practical effects during some gory scenes were often entertaining. What added to the amusement of each kill was that the Ranger would recite forest laws, in very cool and collected fashion, as to why they were being punished. He would even add the exact law codes seemingly as referral if the victim would like to go over the rulebook and confirm.
Co-writer and director Jenn Wexler was in her feature film directorial debut and she sure starts off on the right foot and in the correct path. I always found that horror and comedy were the two movie genres that had the best chemistry if woven together appropriately, and although Wexler’s movie isn’t an all-out comedy, it definitely contains some delicious dark humor. In addition to this, the plot is quite interesting. Chelsea’s childhood storyline regarding her uncle is quite engaging and ties in very well with the involvement of the Ranger’s presence within her life.
All in all, “The Ranger” is a pleasant slasher that should be viewed by all. It delivers exactly what we like to see: punk kids finally getting what they deserve; nothing more, nothing less. Find a way to view it whenever it is made possible, as it is rewarded with 3.5 stars out of 5.
Top | Link
Fantasia 2018 Curtain Raiser: Your Guide To Navigating Montreal’s Gargantuan Genre Festival
The Fantasia International Film Festival begins its 22nd edition in Canada’s La Belle Province today for a three-week smorgasbord of action, horror, weirdness and, tucked away between the splatter and science fiction, you will find a drama or two. As per usual, there are several Screen Anarchists attending the festival and we have put together a guide to what we personally are anticipating.
How does one choose between over 100 features, shorts and other multimedia events (not to mention a thriving film market, pitch sessions, and several cocktail functions and after-parties) into the best that Fantasia can offer? Let us guide you through what is happening in Montreal, on the wilder side of cinema.
Top | Link
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.
Top | Link
[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.
Top | Link
[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.
Top | Link
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.
Top | Link
[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.
Top | Link
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.
Top | Link
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…
Top | Link
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?”
Top | Link
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.
Top | Link
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.
Top | Link
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.
Top | Link
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.
Top | Link
Interview: Director Jenn Wexler and Stars Chloe Levine and Jeremy Holm Talk THE RANGER
Authentic punk rock and the nostalgia of eighties slashers converge in The Ranger, Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut. Written by Giaco Furino and Jenn Wexler, the movie stars Chloe Levine (The Transfiguration) as Chelsea and Jeremy Holm (Mr. Robot, House of Cards) as the ranger. The film tells the story of a group of punk rockers who try to hide out in a cabin in the woods, but learn about ranger danger when they cross paths with a ranger who takes his job very seriously. Punk music, fashion, and blood blend wildly as the ranger tries to teach the teenagers a lesson about obeying the rules in the most twisted ways imaginable. Dread Central spoke with Jenn Wexler, Chloe Levine, and Jeremy Holm about The Ranger, eighties horror, punk rock, and more! Read on to find out what we talked about.
The Ranger is screening at Fantasia Film Festival on July 23rd at 9:30 pm.
Dread Central: Jenn, The Ranger is your directorial debut and you co-wrote the story with Giaco Furino. How did you come up with the concept for the film?
Jenn Wexler: Giaco and I went to school together where we studied screenwriting and this was his senior screenplay. So, he came up with the idea and I was just a total fan of it. I just thought it always sounded so cool. Punks versus a park ranger alone feels like a movie that should have already been made. It brought all these visuals to my mind so I just always thought it was a cool idea. We graduated college and we both did our own thing. A couple of years later I started working for Glass Eye Pix and learning how to make movies under Larry Fessenden, as a producer, and I was thinking about what I wanted to direct for my first feature. I remembered Giaco’s script and I called him and asked him if he could find it. Then we started updating it together with the goal of making it.
DC: Chloe, I loved you in The Transfiguration. The character of Chelsea in The Ranger is very different from that role. Why did you want to play Chelsea and did you do anything special to get inside her head? Also, how did you feel about having pink hair?
Chloe Levine: Thank you! Having pink hair was so rad (laughs). I was excited to have pink hair. Chelsea is a bit different from Sophie in The Transfiguration. Part of the reason I love acting is exploring different parts of myself through different characters. With Chelsea specifically, she’s this badass punk rocker. I didn’t know a lot about punk, but she also has this really haunting past that affects her in these pretty cool ways. I thought it would be interesting to dive into that. She has a lot going on and I’m really attracted to characters as complex as real people.
DC: Jeremy, the ranger is obsessed with enforcing the park rules, which gives him some great lines and adds a comedic element to the film. Where did you draw your inspiration for the ranger?
Jeremy Holm: I had the luxury of having the script for quite some time before we started filming, so I would read the script every day. After reading the script in the morning, I would take one scene to sort of work on and think about. In terms of archetypes and things like that, I was thinking about this one particular guy who lives down the road from me. One night I got home and the door to my house was wide open. My first thought was “I’ve got to get Tom.” So, I went down and I got Tom and he came up here with a shotgun and we searched the house. Sure enough, he chased somebody out of the house. This was a tough dude who lives in a rural cabin in the woods. His face kept entering my mind when I was thinking about who this ranger guy was. The rest of it really just came from Jenn’s lookbook that she made and from the costume designer and when we were on set everything gelled into place. It was pretty easy to do actually to be honest with you.
Jenn Wexler: In our first meeting, Jeremy started getting into character while we were sitting there, which was really cool. Also, that was the first time he mentioned “The Most Beautiful Girl” song.
Jeremy Holm: Yeah, I kept hearing that song every time I would work on it. That song I remember because my mom used to drive us down these high mountain roads and that song would come on. I don’t know why, but I kept hearing that song, so I actually listened to it a lot while I was working on the script. I don’t know, it just all seemed to make sense somehow. The ranger just cares about her and he’s trying to do a good job and everybody thinks he’s psychotic. He’s just really good at his job.
Jenn Wexler: What was important for me was making sure that he’s our bad guy of course, but also making sure there is something relatable about him. Jeremy and I talked about that and he just really wants to connect with other people.
Jeremy Holm: If you’re driving down the road and you see someone litter, I mean come on. Tell me you haven’t imagined a way to make their car swerve off the road into a tree or at least get pulled over and get a ticket for littering. (laughter) So, it’s just an expression of that wish that we all, at one time or another, for various reasons have had.
DC: Jenn, You’ve been involved with some fantastic indie films as a producer with Glass Eye Pix, so you’ve worked with Larry Fessenden before The Ranger. What is it like working with an indie icon? I’m also wondering what it was like for Chloe and Jeremy.
Jenn Wexler: I was a total fan of Glass Eye Pix before I started working there. Just from being a total fan, I moved to New York City and stalked them until they hired me and gave me a job. Working at Glass Eye has been totally amazing. Larry is such an amazing mentor. He’s so supportive of new filmmakers and helping them get their voices out there, especially for their first film. It’s been really cool to work with him in terms of producing, to work with him side-by-side as a producer. He’s such a creative mind and if you’re in a bind he always seems to know the right thing to say to inspire you to realize the right way to go. That’s such a magical quality he has and makes him an amazing producer and he’s also an amazing director and writer. He’s an artist first and foremost which allows him to really bond with artists that he wants to work with in that way.
Chloe Levine: Larry is just a really sweet person to be around. I was kind of bummed that we didn’t have a scene together. He’s also in The Transfiguration, too and so this is our second movie together, but we don’t have a scene together (laughs). I think he’s just a real artist. Whatever he produces, writes, acts. I think he’s just really talented.
Jeremy Holm: We were able to be around his house when we were shooting The Ranger. His home is basically like a museum of horror and art. Jenn nailed it. This man is an artist. He’s a world class artist. I was kind of nervous to meet him. I’ve worked with lots of famous people and I don’t really get too nervous, I just do my job. I was a little nervous to meet him because he’s basically the father of horror, especially in New York City, so it was pretty exciting. I didn’t talk to him much, I was a little nervous, but just to stand next to him and watch Jenn and Chloe work and we chatted a little bit. Yeah, he’s amazing. What an artist.
DC: This question is for everyone. The film has a great eighties slasher feel to it. Are any of you big fans of eighties horror movies?
Chloe Levine: I am (laughs)!
Jenn Wexler: (laughter) I was waiting to see if Chloe was going to jump in with enthusiasm. I definitely am. I grew up on that stuff. It’s part of my soul. It’s the kind of thing that I can’t just let go of it. It works its way into everything I do. Giaco and I really wanted to create this world that pitted eighties punk movies against eighties slashers with a little bit of late nineties slasher teen dialogue thrown in, and all centered around a cool final girl.
Jeremy Holm: What were you calling it, Jenn? You had a name for it.
Jenn Wexler: I was calling it eighties dreamland. On set, everyone would be like “Oh, it’s supposed to the eighties, but what year is it exactly?” Everybody from cast to production to costume designers, everybody wanted to know so that they could be as specific as possible in what they were doing. And it was important for me to kind of clarify for everybody that it’s the eighties, but I’m calling it eighties dreamland and we create this fake drug, Echo, as a symbol that this world is just to the left of reality. This isn’t the real eighties. This is slightly surreal, slightly over-the-top, dreamland, fairytale eighties. Another big influence was Lisa Frank, if you’re familiar with her art of the early nineties. We wanted to make an eighties horror movie with the color palette of Lisa Frank (laughs).
DC: Can you each tell me what new projects you are working on now?
Jenn Wexler: I just produced Larry Fessenden’s new movie Depraved, which I’ll let Chloe answer in a moment. It’s really cool. It’s a modern day Frankenstein movie and we’re in post-production right now.
Chloe Levine: I have a part in Larry’s movie Depraved which is pretty cool. I just wrapped on this secret Netflix show about two weeks ago, so that should be coming out soon.
Jeremy Holm: I also just wrapped a secret Netflix show. (laughter) They make us sign these Non-Disclosure Agreements and they scare the hell out of you. They put you in a room and they bring a bunch of lawyers in and they say a bunch of stuff, so I have to keep it on the down low. I got the privilege of doing a movie for the McManus Brothers with their sister Michaela McManus called The Block Island Sound, which is in post-production now. Then hopefully Mr. Robot starts up in the fall. I don’t know if I’m going to be in it or not. I might be dead and I might not be dead. Nobody knows. Those are the things I’m focused on now.
Top | Link
INTERVIEW WITH THE RANGER DIRECTOR JENN WEXLER
What is it about the Punk movement you like so much? It informs so much of THE RANGER…
I’m incredibly drawn to punk’s spirit of rebellion and its embracing of individuality. Growing up in the suburbs, there was so much pressure to fit in, to be seen as “normal,” and going to punk shows was thrilling for me because it helped me realize it was okay to want other things. I went to college in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts and studied screenwriting, where my classmate, Giaco, wrote a script that would eventually become THE RANGER. I fell in love with the concept of a group of punks going up against this figure of authority, someone who deems them less than, because they don’t conform to what he values as worthy. I find personality types like this terrifying– ones that say you have to fit into some cookie-cutter mould or else you’re living your life wrong. Punk is all about fighting that.
You started out at Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix in the marketing department and moved on to producing. But was it always your ambition to direct?
I’ve always wanted to direct and was directing shorts while working in marketing, but to direct a feature, I wanted to first understand as much as possible about filmmaking. Producing films like DARLING, LIKE ME and MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND was invaluable, it taught me so much. When you’re a hands-on producer, you’re in the trenches with directors, helping them realize their visions, weathering the pitfalls and celebrating in the triumphs through every stage of the process.
THE RANGER is your feature debut so what was important for it to be about and what did you want it to achieve artistically?
I wanted to combine the outrageous, absurd humor of 80s punk movies with the thrill of the slasher, all circling around a girl who’s trying to figure herself out in the face of others telling her who she should be. Throughout the film, Chelsea is trying to unravel memories about her childhood, which informed the bubblegum, candy
colored aesthetic — sweet on the outside but getting sour the more her memories are revealed. Overall I wanted the film to have an EC Comics vibe, to feel larger than life, with the world of the punks and the world of the Ranger colliding, both visually and musically. We start the film in the punk club, with all these insane colors, and when the punks escape to the woods they bring those colors with them, invading The Ranger’s rustic, Smokey-the-Bear parkland.
Should we make something relevant out of SCREAM being the first horror film you ever saw?
I’ve been drawn to scary stuff since I was a kid. I was obsessed with the television show ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK and would try to get my friends to hang out with me in graveyards after school. I was 10 years old when SCREAM came out, and I remember overhearing a conversation between my mom and one of her friends about how utterly horrible this new movie was, my mother completely disturbed by the description of the sweet little girl from ET hanging from a tree with her insides out. My curiosity was more than piqued. At a sleepover party soon after, someone had the VHS. I felt a supreme sense of rebellion watching the movie, knowing how much it would freak out my mom. It became more than rebelling against my parents, though. It was like an entirely new world had been revealed to me. SCREAM ushered me into adolescence, and I became obsessed with the teen horror movies of the time, including THE CRAFT, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, URBAN LEGEND, DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, THE FACULTY, with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER my favorite TV show. As with my discovery of punk, they offered me a sense of adventure and an emotional escape from the tedium of being a kid in suburbia. Eventually they gave way to my discovery of the rich history of the genre. I think a lot of what you see when you’re in your early adolescence informs your development as an artist and as a human, and I can say the 90s teen slasher craze informed mine.
Why did you choose Chloë Levine as Chelsea and Jeremy Holm as the Ranger?
Jeremy is a friend of co-writer Giaco Furino, so we wrote the part with Jeremy in mind. I was a fan, watching him in HOUSE OF CARDS and MR ROBOT. When at long last we showed him the script, we were very happy to find out that he loved it! We had a meeting and we all clicked. He was the first person we cast.
We worked with casting director Lois Drabkin who suggested, while I was at SXSW 2017, I check out Chloë Levine in THE TRANSFIGURATION. Her performance was mesmerizing, and we ended up having a meeting at the festival. We bonded over the character, and I could tell she would bring so much nuance to the role.
Does Larry Fessenden always insist being in every production, or does he actually wait to be asked?
Larry is the last person who would ever ask for a role. It’s just all of us filmmakers who love and admire him who keep asking him to be in our movies.
Did you worry that there’s been quite a few other 80s slasher homages recently?
No, if a concept speaks to me—and THE RANGER is one that wouldn’t let me go—I’ll follow it through. Projects may have similarities on the surface, but when film is being made from a sincere place, each one will be so informed by the specifics of the people who make it.
You used the term ‘80s Dreamland’ during shooting on the Hunter’s Mountain locations, what did you mean exactly?
As we were prepping for production, a few of the actors and crew members asked what year the film takes place in; the kids have no cell phones and there’s a boombox, so they guessed sometime in the 80s. I expressed that the film doesn’t take place in the actual 80s, but just to the left of reality, in a comic-book, fairy-tale-esque world that I dubbed 80s Dreamland. In my mind’s eye, it was a world where 80s punk movies like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, Smokey-the-Bear PSAs, and Lisa Frank colors collide.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from your first time behind the horror camera?
Anytime I make a film I feel like someone has drilled a hole into my skull and poured information into it. THE RANGER was exciting because, while I’ve certainly worked across departments before as a producer, it was my first time working with department heads from a creative perspective. Collaborating with our DP, production designer, costume designer, composers, and more to realize the film was such an incredible experience. At the end of the day I learned that directing was just as intense and also just as rewarding as I hoped it would be.
All that Punk music but Charlie Rich’s 1973 hit ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ makes the biggest impression. WTF?
I really wanted the music in the movie to feel like a mix-tape. When the punks are in control, the soundtrack is primarily punk music, but as they get deeper into the woods and lose control, The Ranger’s music of choice takes over. Jeremy would use ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ to get into character, and he was always singing it on set. Our on-set editor, Kyle Mumford, dropped the song into the cut just to see how it would feel, and immediately we were all obsessed! But my personal favorite song on the soundtrack is “The Good The Bad and The Kowalskis” by The Avengers, which plays over the closing credits. I feel The Avengers are Chelsea’s spirit band.
Top | Link
Interview: Producer Heather Buckley Talks Punk Rock, Horror, and THE RANGER
Producer Heather Buckley has been a hardcore horror fan and punk rocker her entire life. In addition to producing an incredible amount of films, she’s an actress, horror journalist and all around horror junkie. She decided to be a producer on The Ranger, which is her friend Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut. The film is a fun and terrifying punk rock infused, eighties style slasher and stars Chloe Levine and Jeremy Holm. Dread Central had the pleasure of speaking with Heather Buckley about The Ranger, punk rock, horror, and so much more! Read on to find out what we talked about.
Dread Central: I know that you’ve been a huge fan of horror since you were very young and in addition to being a producer you’ve also been a journalist for sites like Dread Central and Fangoria. Do you still find time to write and what do you enjoy about it?
Heather Buckley: I’ve worked with Dread Central for ten years. I worked with them way back in the day and Fangoria, and Diabolique. When I was a young girl, I was an outsider, I was a punk rocker, and I was an artist. I was interested in things like reading and literature and stuff like that and philosophy, which was strange for a child. Reading about criticism and reading about horror films and knowing there was a world out there and that aesthetic, helped form who I was. And the idea that I was in that position to put all that content back out to the world with interviews, reviews on films, interviews on genre and dealing with it in such a way that it mattered. A lot of critics are going to say it’s a horror movie and aren’t going to take the time to go through the aesthetic and the story. I wanted to take the time to treat it as I would treat any art form, high art, literature, and films. Thinking of it in that way and putting it out there, the voices like when I was a little Heather, need that to form who they are. They needed to read stories about their favorite actors and directors and the creative process and horror movies.
When I was very young I was influenced by writing in my field that had more of an academic feel about it and talked about genre as a perspective and point of view that went over like avant-garde cinema. In contemporary genre, I feel that people want to talk about genre in a more elevated way like, while I would argue that genre was always elevated because it’s part of a continuum that started with Biblical, Shakespeare, there’s a whole line of transgressive philosophy about horror. It’s sort of to keep that tradition alive and make sure that the folks that need that content have it. It’s giving back. I was never paid for writing for ten years. It’s much like how some give to the church. I gave to Dread Central and Fangoria, and all those other places, and so when I have a chance to talk to great people, it’s to get those stories out there.
I always feel that with horror people that we’re able to row over to the other side of the River Styx and gather up all the sort of ghoulish flowers that are over there and bring them back to civilization untouched and tell them what we saw. And I think interviewing, which I love to do the most, allows that. It’s to have someone go out there, grab these beautiful, arcane things and celebrate them. I think it’s important to do. I look at it like I look at my DVD supplement work, and it’s the same thing with producing. The idea of going out there and making sure certain things get out there, being very dedicated, very focused, and understanding the audience. They are all extensions of a certain personality type and a certain affection for genre, film history, things that are forgotten, and things that aren’t beautiful like what society thinks is beautiful.
DC: You’ve produced a lot of films. What appealed to you the most about the story of The Ranger and why did you want to be involved with this film?
HB: I was initially given the screenplay about three years ago. Jenn is my friend and we were at Fantasia at the time. I sat down and I read it and I said “This script reminds me of my friends. These characters remind me of my friends. They’re so funny in that East Coast punk rock sort of way.” I wrote down how I would market it and how the audience would look like because, I myself, was a Creative Director/Creative Lead in Advertising in Manhattan for thirteen years. If you’re an artist you should know who you’re directing your signals to. This is what your soundtrack should look like, it sounds sort of like California punk, it’s very energetic, and it’s thrashy. It’s the music that I listened to in New York City. It’s a lot of English street songs, a lot of New York hardcore, it’s that crazy upbeat nature.
Jenn just had me read it as a friend, but slowly unbeknownst to me, I started to produce the film. I would go on Tumblr and I would send her images. Because part of my old Creative Director self is like part of your job is to be an inspiration for the works you’re going to implement. I was always in a position to say “Oh you like this? You’re working on this? Well, here’s some images.” It wasn’t about direction, it wasn’t about anything other than “I know you’re working on this project and I thought of your project and this is a cool image. I don’t know if it helps you with your project.” So, I would do that a lot. I would send her punk rock pictures. I would send her eighties pictures, and crazy vintage eighties ads and some color pattern that she was interested in.
I was just doing that as a friend not thinking anything of it, but I was always curious because of my ability to talk to businessmen and my ability to talk to creatives. I always thought, because I had a background pitching, would I be able to pitch to investors? I would know how to break down the argument of how to talk to investors, talk about who would be involved, the movie and what sort of audience it would hit. My friend Kim Garland one day introduced me to an investor in Canada and I said to Jenn, once again not wanting to be a producer, just as a friend to have another friend’s project made I said “Can I pitch this investor?” So I pitched the investor and he was interested in it. Then Jenn asked me at some point “Heather, do you want to be my Co-producer?” I was honored because I wasn’t angling for Co-producer, I was just being helpful. Somehow I became Executive Producer and then on-site producer to tend to the punk rock aspect of it.
After that I went to my close friend Andrew van den Houten and I pitched the movie, but it wasn’t time for him. Sometimes time doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you show them a project and they love it so much, it’s not time to invest. So, he gave me some wonderful advice because Andrew is a friend of mine. Then we submitted to co-productions at Fantasia. Of course we’re all veterans at Fantasia and she got in. We did a little teaser. The theme of the film is sort of these bright colors with an eighties vibe. I feel like the Ranger has sort of a giddy, nice nature, which to me is counter to a lot of the eighties slashers where they’re really scary. That sort of tells you where the heart is. You can have a heart of darkness or you can have a Halloween heart where it’s a great celebration and a great affection of the genre, which I believe The Ranger is.
Andrew called me up and said “Heather, don’t send that script to anybody! I’m going to make that script.” Because I’m a freelance producer myself kind of like the Outlaw Josey Wales, I walk alone through the desert of genre cinema. So, Glass Eye Pix put me under their wing and then Hood River and Glass Eye worked together for the first time. I know Andrew and Larry Fessenden always wanted to do a project and this one seemed like the one to do. We went through the process of locations and looking at the line budget and just being a part of it. Jenn also, other than being a cool, fucking girl, she’s made all those great films with Mickey Keating and with Glass Eye Pix. Her dream and her heart was always to be a director.
At co-production when I sat down with the investors, in my heart I said, “This is Jenn’s dream. This is a girl’s dream. Please have the dream come true.” There’s always a drive for women in horror, but I think in general we sort of saw how women were treated in the industry. I don’t think anyone really took it dead serious that we knew what was going on, so we were created before the Weinstein fallout and then we sort of arrived in this post-MeToo world with all these other great female movies. For example, we were doing a film festival with Revenge, which I like a lot.
The outpouring of support for the film is incredible and the idea that it should do a film festival, because it’s a punk rock movie and I think the slasher film is kind of a proletariat genre, and it’s for everybody. We get requests from horror fans on social media to try to book it where they are. They go “I need to see it.” And it’s wonderful. It’s fun because anyone who follows The Ranger account on Twitter, it will follow you back in true slasher style (laughs).
I also want to talk about Night of the Demons because that’s where I heard Bauhaus for the first time. That’s an authentic punk rock soundtrack and I hope The Ranger is the same way. My favorite soundtrack when I was a kid was Fear No Evil because The Sex Pistols were on it. When I listened to The Ramones, and specifically The Sex Pistols, I said “This sounds like myself.” So, it’s not like punk transformed me in a way, it’s like it’s something that you always were. I could recognize some of the nature of the music, the rawness of the music. Those are all legendary punk rock bands that are in The Rangersoundtrack. Jenn, as a director, really embraced having a punk rock soundtrack and embraced having that look and feel to the characters.
At some point, like in the nineties, punk rock was a combination of media punk that you saw in film like Night of the Living Dead, and actual punk rock fashion coming directly probably from The Ramones. What Jenn’s going for in The Ranger is sort an iconic punk rock look. My friends in the city, we all look the same. We all wear black with studs on it. But when you’re making a movie, you want to go for their clothing all looks different from each other and it’s very specific and it’s very symbolic. All those patches in The Ranger are hand screen-printed and all those studs are done by hand because we really care about those details.
What attracted me to this film is they sound exactly like my friends. The other reason is that when I read the character of the Ranger I went “He has to be a villain because the story is about a final girl which in some ways is Jenn’s story, but my story is the story of someone who is sort of a hardcore, committed person.” To me those are always the villains and the supervillains. When I read the part of the Ranger, I knew he had to exist and the characters have to exist. When I produce a film I look at the story and I look at the characters and ask myself if I want those characters to exist. Should they exist in the real world? When we were casting, we looked at folks reading the lines and making what is fiction into reality and I had such a profound feeling. This is why people make feature films. Bringing something that isn’t real into reality and making it real is incredibly powerful.
DC: The Ranger has an amazing cast and some really impressive performances. How closely did you get to work with the cast and what was your favorite thing about working on this film?
HB: My favorite thing working on this film, I love them all, is that I have a horrible punk rock car that I drive and everyone wanted to ride in the producer’s car. It doesn’t have the spray paint on it, but it’s pretty much like The Return of the Living Dead car. It’s like a battle axe. It’s going to last forever. It’s a thirteen-year-old Pontiac Sunfire. My favorite thing was probably bringing the cast back and forth to set while telling them punk rock stories from back in the day and CBGB stories and playing punk rock music. A lot of the cast wasn’t exposed to that music. We listened to The Clash and The Misfits, of course because I’m from Jersey and they’re a very important band to me. Then Jeremy Holm and I would be in the car pretending that we were serial killers. That was the bonding going back and forth to set. It was storytelling, punk music, and improv.
That punk show in the movie is an actual live punk show. My friends and people I didn’t know all showed up and so we were filming at a live show. A lot of the actors said seeing that energy that they wanted more of it. For a lot of them, it was the first time they ever saw punk rockers. I’m glad they were exposed to the counter culture of it. Jeremy Holm would be in character in the woods and Adam Torkel, who did the EPK, was taking video of him giving PSAs around trees and kissing trees (laughs). He stayed in character and he’s incredibly funny and he could be menacing at the same time. I told him that he gave me “menacing envy” because he’s able to be more menacing than me. I can’t do it (laughs)!
DC: The Ranger is very nostalgic and has that 80s slasher vibe. Are you a big fan of 80s horror movies?
HB: I think a lot of people wanted this movie to be like Maniac Cop and didn’t want it to be her story. It’s not a body count film. It’s actually a story about the final girl. I would compare it to something like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon because in that film it’s a mockumentary until it becomes an actual slasher film, and at some point, The Ranger becomes a slasher film. Other than that, you’re learning about the girl who would become the final girl. You have to be interested in her story and her friends. I fucking love Maniac Cop. I love Ghoulies. I watch horrible, annihilistic, disturbing stuff. I watch all kinds of movies, all the genre stuff.
I also write about it from a historical perspective, so I have to watch all this sort of craziness. If I did a comparison of the character the Ranger, it’s more like Mick in Wolf Creek, who has a gun and a lot of silly stuff to say. I think in The Ranger the humor comes from a sort of kind-hearted nature the way Jenn looks at horror films. Jeremy has the ability to be menacing and funny at the same time. It’s a perfect combination of what he’s able to do. Everything about him is perfect. He’s also written his own fan fiction of what The Ranger sequels would be like (laughs). He dreams that one day there will be a Ranger action figure. The fans must demand it. They must go insane. We’re working on merch so people can have things from The Ranger.
DC: I love The Ranger and I can’t wait for it to get out there so more people can see it.
HB: Oh, that is awesome! My friend Jill “Sixx” Gevargizian, her short 42 Counts, is actually playing before The Ranger at Fantasia. That’s so exciting because I love Jill so much. She’s totally awesome and she’s also a hairstylist. She has a client who is a ranger who mentioned the movie The Ranger! That’s the first time we heard that. That’s a legendary story. Rangers have heard of the movie The Ranger and that’s wonderful. This movie should play everywhere because it is for everyone. Let me tell you, working with Larry Fessenden was incredible. I’m sure when you talked to him you got that vibe that you’re almost talking to a holy man.
DC: Do you have a favorite horror movie and why?
HB: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre! My two favorite and most influential horror movies are The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and if you want to track back to my interest in punk, it is because of the raw nature of those films. I feel that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre transformed modern horror films. When Tobe Hooper died, I was so affected because of the thought of a world where he was never around. I have The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 on 35mm. The more that I watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the more I love the iconography of Leatherface. It feels like you’re in that movie. It feels like a documentary. That sort of acting style is incredibly hard to pull off. It’s alive, it’s in the moment. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is just such an incredibly dark film.
Both films are very direct and the type of imagery they have and the type of characters they portray. I think it’s very brave to make something that raw and put it out into the world. The physicality of Kane Hodder as Jason in Friday the 13th Part VII is such an inspiration for me as someone who is 5’11” and in all my punk rock gear. I love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre series. It’s very important to me. I love the idea of togetherness and being in your own crazy world with the people that you’re around. How can that not be my punk rock friends? Eighteen years I’ve known these people and I love them more than anything else. That is my family.
Top | Link
Interview: Larry Fessenden Talks THE RANGER and Indie Horror
You can’t talk about independent horror without mentioning indie icon Larry Fessenden. He’s an actor, writer, director, and producer and his production company Glass Eye Pix has been behind some of the most stellar indie genre films ever made. He’s well-respected in the horror community not just for his extensive knowledge and talent, but also for his willingness to help up-and-coming filmmakers bring their visions to life through film.
Fessenden has a small role in the punk rock slasher film The Ranger which was produced by Glass Eye Pix and is currently playing the festival circuit.The Ranger was directed by Jenn Wexler, also a producer with Glass Eye Pix, and stars Chloe Levine and Jeremy Holm. The film tells the story of a group of punk rockers who find themselves on the run from the police. When they decide to hide out in a cabin in the woods, they cross paths with a park ranger who takes his job a little too seriously.
The Ranger embraces punk style through fashion and attitude and when all hell breaks loose the film erupts into a wild mesh of music, blood, and hair color, all while keeping it’s twisted sense of humor. Dread Central had the pleasure of speaking with Larry Fessenden about The Ranger, indie horror, his thoughts on “elevated horror,” and so much more! Read on to find out what we talked about.
Dread Central: Since 1985 your company Glass Eye Pix has produced several phenomenal indie films. You’ve helped so many other indie filmmakers get their work out there. What do you love most about independent film?
Larry Fessenden: I really wanted to create an environment that I wish had been created for me. I say that because I’ve also struggled to be a director since the eighties and I’ve had occasional successes, but it’s really tough. You want to provide a community of people who are like-minded and who love the genre, not just for blood and guts, but for all the stories that can be told in this fantastic genre and take it seriously. I just enjoy other people’s visions sometimes as much as my own and I’m kind of nurturing that, so it’s all been very organic. I didn’t set out to start a company or to produce all these movies, but over time while you’re waiting for your own production to come through you’re kind of like, “Hey guys, let’s do something. Do you have anything? What script do you have?”
That started a long time ago with Ti West and Jim McKinney and those guys. I got access to money through MPI and some other companies and I said, “Let’s make some movies.” It’s been a pleasure to make movies that I might not necessarily make like The Ranger, but to know that Jenn can do it with real passion and realize her vision, you get a little bit of a vicarious thrill. So I’ve made a lot of movies that I maybe wouldn’t have directed myself, but I still got the thrill. There’s everything from vampires and zombies and creature features and ghost stories; all sorts of good stuff.
Dread Central: You’re a producer and you also star in The Ranger. What appealed to you about the story?
Larry Fessenden: Well, I will start with the director and I like to believe their intentions are to bring something unique. There are a lot of movies being made and a lot of media out there and I feel like the one way to stand out is to bring something personal, even if you’re bringing sort of an eighties slasher throwback. I felt the main character and the sort of ambiguity of whether she’s good or bad was just a cool take on what would have otherwise been just a body count movie. Jenn’s produced a lot of stuff with me and I really trust her instincts so I knew that she has a great affection for horror and she wanted to bring something personal to it as well. Then we found Chloe Levine, which was fantastic. I’d been in a movie with Chloe and we were all on the festival circuit together and Jenn fell in love with her and wanted her to be the star and it just helped her build the production.
DC: You and Chloe were in the The Transfiguration together. I have a lot of love for that movie.
LF: Yeah, I had a tiny role. I didn’t even actually play with Chloe, but we all met at the screening. It was great. I love that movie and it’s another film I was really glad to be involved in. It had a certain personal approach to all the horror tropes out there.
DC: I’ve tried to spread the word about The Transfiguration because I don’t think enough people know about it.
LF: Well when you list the best vampire movies, people always love to drag out those old lists, I think it should be among them. I mean the ending is shocking and so relevant. The whole journey is so appealing. The main actor is so cool and Chloe and the brothers. It’s really well done. It’s important that critics or journalists draw people’s attention to what’s interesting in horror and try to celebrate that because that’s what gets these indie movies made and get seen. It’s really an important combination of things. I mean we make them, but who cares if no one will see them. It’s great when you champion underdog films.
DC: I’ve had similar conversations with other filmmakers about how important word of mouth is for indie film, so I try to tell people about movies I love and hope they will see them.
LF: Well, that’s what’s cool. That’s what I love about the horror genre is that people are really hungry for good, thoughtful, and you know, badass movies and there is still sort of an underground culture in the horror community and it’s very exciting. That’s what it should be. It is like punk rock. That’s one of the other reasons The Ranger was a fun movie to put together is that it has a punk aesthetic which is more than just the clothing. It’s a whole attitude of let’s throw this thing together with a lot of passion and noise and make something cool. Heather Buckley is our other producer and she has that aesthetic, so it was a great project for my company because that’s what we like to do.
DC: The Ranger is Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut. You’ve worked with her as a producer with Glass Eye Pix, but what was it like working with her as the director on the film?
LF: Well, it was mostly just fun because I love bringing people into the director’s chair. Unexpected directors like people who don’t know anything about the horror genre and that’s one experiment that’s really fun. In this case it was let’s get the producer who’s always been dedicated to other people’s work and let’s give them a shot.
I mean it wasn’t a huge surprise. Jenn had made some short films that I really liked so it was all a process, but what was exciting was to see her gripped by the creative passion because as a producer you’re dealing with numbers and schedules and the practical things like the car broke down in Brooklyn and we’ve got to get it over to Queens. There’s something so clinical about that, so to see Jenn really immersed in the passion was just very exciting and something I wanted for her because she had been so supportive of a lot of our other artists
One thing about Glass Eye Pix is that we often work with first time filmmakers because they’re still willing to work at the kinds of budgets we can raise, and of course it’s good to get new ideas out there. Jenn had been on a movie called Like Me and she had been on a movie called Most Beautiful Island and these are both first time filmmakers, so you have to give a lot of support and have patience while these artists learn their craft on the fly. So Jenn really deserved her first shot.
DC: Besides The Ranger, you’ve produced some of my recent favorite films like Darling, Psychopaths, and Like Me. Do you have a process that you go through when deciding if you want to produce a film and can you share the decision making process with me?
LF: Well, one thing I don’t do is sit around reading scripts like a big movie mogul and chomp my cigar, and basically often pining away trying to get my own films off the ground. Then I meet people and they have an idea and I talk with them and it’s very organic. Jenn had found Like Me and I met with Rob Mockler and there was a bigger budget and I think where my contribution comes in is sort of when I eventually say, “Let’s try to make this anyway. We’re never going to get that budget.”
You’re chasing after movie stars and all these things that get in the way of actual making of the art. What we were able to do was stand by him when the budget dropped considerably and ironically he was able to ask me to be in the movie since I’m not worth anything (laughs). We gave it our all and we got great artisans and that’s sort of the punk aesthetic. So it’s really out of spite for the industry how slow it is, how few risks the industry will take. I feel like somebody has to be down in the trenches fighting for the idea of cinema and making artistic projects and pushing the envelope and surprising audiences with authentic, thoughtful movies.
I still like horror so I usually work within that genre, but I also support other types of independent minded people. What I find compelling, I do think there is a tone to a lot of the Glass Eye Pix movies all the way back to Ti West films and it has to do with slowing down the pacing and being thoughtful of the moments and sort of reminding people of the power of these myths that we all love like werewolves, Dracula or whoever. I just made a Frankenstein movie (laughs). It’s sort of the opposite of exploitation even though you’re borrowing from a genre that’s often just thrown together for the money.
DC: You also star in a lot of the films you produce. How much input do you usually have as far as the filmmaking process and is it just a coincidence that your characters die a lot?
LF: (laughter) No, I’m always killed in movies and it’s almost become a tradition. A certain level of horror people call me up and say, “Will you do this scene? It’s so cool. I’ve got the best idea. I’m going to have your head get kabobbed.” And I’m like, “Well, alright.” (laughs) It’s just one of those things.
Obviously all kinds of careers have weird quirks and this has just become almost a tradition. “Oh and then we’ll kill Larry. That’ll be fun.” I literally have a death reel that I put out on my birthday every year (laughs) and it’s got, I don’t know, twenty deaths or something. I fall out of windows, I burn alive, I get my head cut off; you can look it up on Youtube. I don’t know if it’s a recent one there, but it’s pretty funny. It’s called Larry Fessenden Death Reel I think (laughs). I get shot by Jodie Foster! Even in Hollywood movies, they kill me (laughs).
The other thing is that I take horror very seriously. I’ve always been paranoid and basically one of those people who’s, what’s it called when you’re always getting sick? Oh, I’ve got a little heart murmur or I hate flying. Everybody knows this about me. It kind of seems appropriate that I’m rehearsing for my death in these movies (laughs).
DC: The Ranger has such an impressive cast and the characters are believable. What was it like working with Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, and the rest of the cast?
LF: Well, of course if you really analyze it I’m not in any scenes with them, but I was around the location. I just think Chloe is a real treasure and she really got into the role and she and Jenn struck up something that was very genuine and I think it makes the movie interesting. Without spoiling anything, it’s unclear if the ranger is the villain or if Chloe is the one with the real ferocity. All of that is part of the story and part of what makes it outside of the expected genre tropes. Chloe’s just a very compelling face of course and she just has an innate talent. I used her again in my movie just recently and she just brings something to it. That’s just talent and charisma.
Jeremy was fantastic. He really was fun and we had a lot of laughs because we shot some stuff in the state of New York where I have a house and he was just really charmed by the small crew and the community. He works on TV shows where everything is quite formal in showbiz and so to be able to get in with a small crew makes you feel like part of a little team, which I think was refreshing for him.
DC: You mentioned a new movie that you’re working on. What can you tell me about that?
LF: Yes, I’m editing my Frankenstein movie now. It’s called Depraved and it has Chloe Levine in it and also Addison Timlin from Like Me. A newcomer plays the monster, named Alex Breaux. So, we’ll see. Once again it’s not really straight out exploitative horror, it’s a very sort of melancholy take on Frankenstein and what it would really be like. What would it really be like to meet a vampire, if you’ve ever seen my movie called Habit, that’s what that’s about. And in The Innkeepers it’s a ghost story, but the whole time you’re like “Well, they’re goofing around. Is it really a ghost story?” I love that idea of where you make it feel real, all these things that we’ve always loved.
I’m so old that I don’t even romanticize the eighties. I romanticize the seventies (laughs). In those days in movies the acting method was straight out of the Brando/De Niro camp and everything was very gritty and real. Not so much the horror at the time, although you had Polanski doing Rosemary’s Baby, but just the flavor of movies. I always wanted to combine that with old Hollywood traditions like the black and white Frankenstein and Dracula and Wolfman, so that’s sort of my orientation.
The next generation had their own agenda, but it often comes out of a love of cinema like the Kubrick years and the Scorseses. Then somehow people get stuck in horror. Of course, there’s a great new wave of horror that does all the things I’m mentioning, but that’s really quite recent. Movies like The Babadook and It Follows, Hereditary and so on. Now it’s being taken seriously, but when I was coming up in the nineties you wouldn’t have a horror movie financed unless it was some goofy midnight movie. Some things have gotten better.
DC: You’ve probably seen the argument going around the internet about whether or not a movie is horror and the term “elevated horror” being used.
LF: I’m aware of it. I guess I believe in elevated horror, but it doesn’t have to be pretentious. I always like when people like movies. I don’t need you to agree with me. As for the argument and I guess horror lovers feel all these movies are getting on their turf, but I would say, bring it all on. I would say the more the merrier. I don’t know. What do you think? What is the final word?
DC: I agree with what you said about the more the merrier, but a lot of mainstream people aren’t comfortable admitting that they enjoy horror movies. They’re calling movies like It psychological thrillers, which is absurd in my opinion.
LF: No, that is a fucking outrage! You’re absolutely right. It’s the same thing with Get Out. You don’t have to call that a sociological humana humana. No, it’s a horror movie! There’s brain transplants and there’s zombies, what the fuck? The fact that it has a social component is fine. So does Night of the Living Dead if you want to analyze it, so you’re absolutely right.
They were falling all over themselves to say, “Well what won the Oscar?” Well, I’ll tell you what won the Oscar, a monster movie. It’s about fucking time, too. They haven’t seen an Oscar since 1932 with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so fuck them. The only good thing is I like horror being an alternative, in the gutter experience because it should actually shake you up and so I don’t love the mainstreaming of horror. I also don’t like all the unwillingness to call it what it is, it’s a great genre.
Everyone experiences fear. It’s the most common thing we all have. In fact, look at our fucking politics. It’s all fear based. Bringing people fear is a service that we provide in the horror industry (laughs). And they want to take that away. They’re just fucking playing with words. I hate the psychological thriller thing. I mean we make psychological horror movies basically because they’re more torment than gore, but I find the whole thing so ridiculous. People don’t realize they’re living in a horror movie.
I was never a huge fan of torture porn, but the fact is movies like Saw perfectly expressed what we were doing as a nation. So the point is that horror is always of the moment, speaking to people’s anxiety and they don’t want to admit it. That’s why it’s effective and that’s why they want to pooh-pooh it. America denies death. They can’t even handle it. Horror people are the only people facing reality. I used to say there was basically horror and porn (laughs). They were both in the back of the video store, but now all that has changed. People spend too much time twitting and blogging, I’m telling you (laughs).
Top | Link
From & Inspired By
Episode #63: The Ranger
Director Jenn Wexler’s debut feature, The Ranger, is a fun but brutal movie about a bunch of punks who hole up in a cabin while on the lam, only to be stalked and killed by a psychotic park ranger. It’s been getting a lot of acclaim from everyone I know who’s seen it, so I reached out via Twitter, especially after reading a piecemusic supervisor Middagh Goodwin wrote for the Modesto View, running down all the great bands he’d lined up for the film.
After watching the movie, I was even more excited to talk with Wexler and Goodwin, and I think it comes through in the interview. We get very goofy, and it’s a damn blast.
Top | Link