Some movies are just going to be gross. You look at the director or the source material the film is based on and you just know that it is going to make you cover your mouth and squirm. Sometimes, even with that beforehand knowledge in our pocket, we encounter a film that still finds a way to shock us into submission. Ryuhei Kitamura, director of The Midnight Meat Train, brings us exactly that type of film with his newest outing, Downrange.
The film starts off with a bang (see what I did there?). It opens on a SUV full of college-age folks as a tire blows and the vehicle skids to the side of the road. If you have seen a trailer or heard anything about this film, you know exactly what is coming next. The group, which consists of couple Sara (Alexa Yeames) and Todd (Rod Hernandez), military brat Keren (Stephanie Pearson), hunky-hunk from Hunkville Jeff (Jason Tobias), soft-spoken nice-guy Eric (Anthony Kirlew) and a young lady just trying to get home to her sister’s sweet-16 party Jodi (Kelly Connaire).
We know all of these things because they tell us within the first 10 minutes of the movie. Usually, exposition like this is annoying and lazy, but Kitamura gets around it by making this a carpool-situation where these people are all strangers going into this little road trip. It’s understandable, then, that they would introduce themselves to one another, and to the audience.
As you can probably guess, they have no cell signal and it is blazing hot outside. They spread out in the shade and try to pass the time by chit-chatting one another about their plans. Hunk Jeff takes over the changing of the spare tire when he sees what it was that caused the blowout in the first place. There laying on the ground next to the deflated tire is a bullet, and that’s when things really start to get interesting.
“The film is filled […] with some of the best gore and body destruction I have seen since Fede Álvarez’s Evil Dead re-make.”
The group in terrorized by a sniper in the trees, making them cower behind engine blocks and fallen tree stumps, picking them off one-by-one as they peek their head out to see what is going on. This is where Downrange really shines. The film is filled from this point until the end with some of the best gore and body destruction I have seen since Fede Álvarez‘s Evil Dead re-make. We see bullets tear through skulls, eyes, hands, arms, legs, shoulders, chests and throats. Literally no part of your body is safe from this killer’s aim. As the young people scream and bleed and die, we see this killer drink from his water bottle and methodically eat jerky. This is fun to him, and he can wait forever for them to try to make a run for it.
The highlight of the entire film comes when another car finally drives toward the wrecked SUV, bringing with it hope for rescue from the remaining carpoolers. The sniper takes a shot at the driver, causing the car to swerve and flip, resulting in one of the most gruesome, kinetic, and blood-splutteringly cool car crashes that I have seen in a long time. It reminded me a lot of the crash in Death Proof, only turned up to eleven when you realize that there 1) is a child in the car and 2) there are bodies already baking in the street where the car is about to land.
The gore and splatter are amazing in Downrange and they definitely deserve a watch when it is released exclusively on Shudder April 26th, but that note is really the only one that this film can hit. It suffers from a cast that is earnest, but obviously inexperienced. In The Midnight Meat Train, Kitamura was able to compliment the gore with performances from Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb and Vinnie Jones that brought extra urgency and emotion into their roles through sheer talent. Downrange does not benefit from this level of acting. They all do well, and they are obviously trying to bring more to their role than “be afraid then bleed”, but it doesn’t land.
Rod Hernandez’s Todd is the bright spot in this group of actors, with a poignant scene in the middle of the road after all hope for survival had been drained from his body. It was the only moment of tenderness that the film managed to successfully display, so it was definitely memorable. The ending of the film, however, seemed rudderless and out-of-place. It was an effective twist that you need to see, but it left me feeling a little let down after the previous 90 minutes of mayhem.
“Downrange is shocking and brutal in its depiction of senseless gun violence”
No creator of horror content goes into a project with no plan in place. They don’t just “wing it” until they see something that might scares some folks. They have spent months, sometimes years nailing down exactly what is going to scare the audience in their work. They use current events, folklore, myths and cultural anxieties to create a web of tension that we, as the participants, must find a way out of. Sometimes, however, current events will cause the cultural anxieties to shift since the beginning of the project. This creates a horror film that will terrify you for a reason the director and writers didn’t expect.
Downrange, I believe, is both the beneficiary and the victim of this phenomenon. I feel like the goal of Kitamura and his co-writer Joey O’Bryan with this film was to scare us because this type of shooting rampage could happen in real life. Instead, the movie scares us because it does happen in real life. This psychopathic killer, in the span of the film’s 90 minute runtime, manages to terrorize and kill twelve people. On October 1st, 2017, a 64 year-old piece of shit from Nevada opened fire on a country music concert, killing 58 and wounding 851 more in the span of 10 minutes. We’ve seen this movie before. It plays every time we gather with a crowd, whether it be for a basketball game, a concert, or for church. It plays when we leave the bar at night and when we head to work in the morning. Downrange is shocking and brutal in its depiction of senseless gun violence, but, unfortunately for those of us living in the United States, we get the same feelings just by turning on the news.
Be sure to check out this bloody, brutal treat of a film as it premiers exclusively on Shudder this Thursday, April 26th. Although there are some points in the film that are just not quite great, Downrange is definitely worth a watch this weekend.
Downrange held it’s world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and was also an official selection of the 2018 Overlook Film Festival. Bookmark our homepage at Nightmare on Film Street to catch all the hottest horror news and reviews. While you’re at it, join our Facebook Group, Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street and let us know what you think about Downrange!