Overlook 2018: The Ranger
Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger is the kind of movie that you really, really want to root for. And, really, who wouldn’t? A slasher flick about a bunch of punks getting chased down by a murderous park ranger in a national forest? Hell yeah, sign me up. But, as everything goes on, it becomes more and more obvious that this movie is nowhere near as endearing as it may have initially looked.
This slasher flick focuses on the aforementioned gang of young adults who’ve all left home for their various reasons. They’re banded together for seemingly no reason other than the fact that they’re the most intolerable group of people ever, and no one else on the planet would ever want to chill with them. They’re also hooked on the latest and greatest party drug that’s sweeping the punk club scene, which is…some sort of purple glittery mystery substance that consistently switches material properties in any given scene, from a powder that looks like a bunch of dumped-out Pixie Stix that demand to be snorted to a mystical liquid that can be injected…somehow.
Yet, this science-defying drug isn’t the worst part of this character writing by far. It’s the complete lack of depth or any rationalization of these characters’ detestability that weakens this the most. To illustrate, let’s compare The Ranger to another film with a similar premise: Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. In that film, The Ain’t Rights are introduced through an interview scene where they all come off as truly obnoxious punks who consider themselves above everyone else. It’s an instantly unlikable look, but by the time they’re on stage in front of a bunch of skinheads, covering The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, we’re rooting for them. Those who are outside of the punk scene, like myself, are given a reason to sympathize with these characters and start feeling the loss when they start getting picked off by these evil racists. In The Ranger, however, the one thing about any of these characters that I rooted for was the interracial gay couple, who really just seemed to be there to check off some diversity boxes, rather than actually being characters who were developed to any degree. Within the first ten minutes of the film, this ragtag group is shown doing drugs, treating each other like garbage, beating a cop until he’s near death, then trashing the national park where they’re hiding out. Fighting The Man in the form of cops and park rangers is one thing, but being assholes to each other and to nature? That’s another.
So eventually, after it’s beaten into us over and over how awful these characters are and how baffling it is that our seemingly okay main character, Chelsea (Chloe Levine) is hanging out with these personified garbage fires, the titular ranger is introduced, played with a gleeful malice by Jeremy Holm. His performance quickly becomes one of the most enjoyable parts of the film, though it seems less and less committed as the character’s spiraling insanity is revealed more and more. Still, as he starts picking off the punks one by one, the splattering blood and gore effects are well-done and satisfying, even if the emotional drive behind the film is nonexistent. The best gory moment by far comes when a guy has to pull his leg out of a bear trap to survive. But, on the other end of the spectrum, the ranger’s super-scary basement hideout is basically a haunted house thrown together by some thirteen-year-olds who just tried beer for the first time on Halloween night. Mangled and clearly plastic body parts are thrown in cages for no explicable reason, weapons are kinda just sitting around, and the unfinished basement lighting’s a little spooky. Zoinks, Scoob!
All of this could be excused if the script worked. But they don’t, really. The dialogue is clunky and awkward without any elevated dialogue to use as an excuse, and it doesn’t do the actors any favors in terms of performances. The story is full of ridiculous and annoying tropes, too, that’ve never really made sense in any film they’ve been used in. It makes my blood boil when a film expects me to buy into a killer sharing a connection with a normal person who accidentally killed one person one time under very specific circumstances. That anger gets ramped up even more when it ends with that normal person accepting that they’re “the same” and just going hogwild. Now, granted, it all ends with a really cool shot of an actual wolf meeting the blood-covered Chelsea, which would be a great shot if it’d been foreshadowed at all. But, no, wolves had made one previous on-screen appearance, and a very bizarre one at that.
It all results in this 77-minute movie feeling like a short eternity from start to finish. It’s so disappointing, as this really felt like something with a lot of promise, but it’s amateurish at its best and borderline insulting at its worst. Granted, this is the kind of film that definitely has its audience of people who’ll love it out there, but it’s got to be a very small sampling.