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.

 

“..once those blood splatters get in the mix, the fun really gets going.”

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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“A good slasher villain is eighty percent concept, and the originality of The Ranger’s killer goes a long 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.

3/4 eberts

 

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