Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.
After basking in the 59 second trailer for Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut, I had a difficult time placing it’s tone. I wasn’t sure if it’s retro overlay was meant to foreshadow a comedic tale, serve as a grindhouse tribute, or something else entirely. And truth be told, 30 minutes into the film itself, I was still unsure as to what kind of movie I was actually watching. Fortunately; though, the last thing a movie about fugitive punks needs is structure and order. The Ranger serves a giant middle finger to convention, and it’s a better movie for it.
We follow a group of teenaged punks on the run from police after a night of drugs and partying ends with fatal consequences. We understand through a series of brief and cryptic flashbacks that one of the teens has a cabin in the woods that they can use as refuge. Unfortunately, her history with the local park ranger soon catches up to her and her friends. It’s not overly original, but fuck it. It works.
While there are certainly some wild kills and gruesome practical effects, The Ranger isn’t a scary film–nor is it trying to be. It’s fun without being overly comedic and plays out more like a traditional slasher flick than anything else–only instead of a masked antagonist hunting teenagers with a machete, there’s a twisted park ranger with a gun and a flare for one-liners. And while that all might sound a tad schlocky, Wexler pulls it off by finding some sort of balance in the chaos.
Performances from the cast are solid but hard to take too seriously given the cartoonish and larger-than-life personas of the characters they portray. More importantly, everyone feels like they’re on the same page. That said, Jeremy Holm stands out as the titular ranger once the film hits it’s stride, and it’s cool to see a softer side of Larry Fessenden.
Even if it takes a little longer than expected to find it’s footing, The Ranger plays out exactly as it should. Bullets will fly, things will explode, blood will spray, and wolves will howl. It’s hard to follow the slasher formula in 2018, but that’s what they do–and they do it damn well.
The Ranger screened at the 2018 Chattanooga Film Festival and is currently unavailable on VOD or home video.
The Ranger [CFF Review]