From 25 Years Later: Recently I had the privilege of chatting with horror producer turned writer-director Jenn Wexler about her hotly anticipated debut film, The Ranger. Jenn cut her teeth producing films with the likes of genre icon Larry Fessenden and Peter Phok at Glass Eye Pix. Check out our wide ranging discussion with one of horror’s best emerging talents before the punk rock meets ’80s slasher influenced roller coaster of a film premieres May 9th on Shudder.
Jenn Wexler featured on “The Most Interesting New Filmmakers We Met in 2018” from Film School Rejects
Jenn Wexler has been working with Glass Eye Pix, producing some of the more interesting genre films lately like Darling, Psychopaths, and Like Me. Her first feature, The Ranger pits punks against The Man, slasher-style. A group of 80s punks flee the city and head out to the woods. They shack up in a family cabin now owned by group member Chelsea, who’s played by Chloe Levine. They encounter a park ranger, played by Jeremy Holm, who is dead set on preserving the sanctity of the woods.
Characters don’t have to make great choices for them to be authentic or real or strong. Which is great for The Ranger, because it’s full of bad decisions and great characters. The movie builds tension slowly until a gunshot rings out and the first body drops, which kicks off a rollercoaster of violence and strange memories and gory horror. Colorful punks battling an insane park ranger is not what I would have thought I needed from the cabin-in-the-woods slasher genre, but god damn. Yes, please.
In celebration of our 33rd year, Glass Eye Pix is excited to present a brand new miniDOC
Created by GEP pal Adam Barnick, today’s MiniDoc profiles prolific Glass Eye collaborator Jenn Wexler, director of THE RANGER, and producer on DEPRAVED, LIKE ME, MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND, PSYCHOPATHS, DARLING and BENEATH as well as TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE and other GEP ventures.
And why not celebrate 33 years by spending some time with other Glass Eye Pix collaborators from the last 33years populating the MiniDocs Page or by browsing the other myriad links on the labyrinthian Glass Eye Pix website, meticulously maintained by GEP web maestro Rigo Garay.
“Wexler’s list of producing credits on horror projects runs impressively long, and March’s “The Ranger” proved her directing legitimacy There’s plenty of punk rock, spunk, and action to be found in her homage to ‘80s slasher movies, and the film solidifies Wexler as a director to watch in 2019.”
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.
THE RANGER team headed down to Austin for its SXSW World Premiere! Check it out in pics here.
Jenn Wexler’s THE RANGER, produced by Glass Eye Pix and Hood River Entertainment, to world premiere in the SXSW Midnighters section!
Teen punks, on the run from the cops and hiding out in the woods, come up against the local authority—an unhinged park ranger with an axe to grind.
Cast: Chloë Levine, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler, Amanda Grace Benitez, Jeremy Holm, Larry Fessenden
Directed by Jenn Wexler. Written by Jenn Wexler & Giaco Furino. Produced by Andrew van den Houten, Larry Fessenden, Ashleigh Snead, Heather Buckley, and Jenn Wexler. Co-produced by Chris Skotchdopole. Edited by Jenn Wexler & Abbey Killheffer. Cinematography by James Siewert.
Check it out at SXSW.com.
GEP pal Jenn Wexler will be on the advisory board at the inaugural North Bend Film Festival.
The event will focus on what is being described as “standout vanguard programming”
and provide a platform for emerging filmmakers.
Entertainment Weekly has the full scoop HERE