So, I was searching through Amazon Prime the other day, trying to find something to watch. Of course, they have deep, Oscar-winning features like Moonlight, Room and Manchester by the Sea, but I kept scrolling past those options.
Why? Well, while they are all great films, I was looking for something different… something that would speak to me as an artist and would challenge my views and the way in which I understood the world.
Not really. I actually just wanted to watch some dumb teenagers get slashed to bits. You ever have one of those days?
No? Just me? Nevermind, then.
*Note – This is not to lambast horror at all – I love horror films and think that there is a real understated and underappreciated art to making an effective horror picture that also challenges us to think, feel and talk about issues and gain a better understanding of ourselves and our world… and I was in the mood for a slasher – sue me.
Regardless, I was happy that Shudder had just added The Ranger (2018) to their collection.
The Ranger is a horror/thriller about: 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.
After reading that, I was in!
This sounded like a mix of Green Room, The Hitcher and Maniac Cop – and exactly like what I was looking for!
So, how did this one hold up?
The Green Room references are pretty obvious at the beginning – a group of punk rockers hanging out in a nightclub, drinking, doing drugs, etc.
But, if you are going to pay homage to a film, a great film like Green Room is a smart bet.
Wow! I really liked the catalyst —
That they kill a cop who corners them when the police raid the club and then have to go on the run. It was a surprise and unexpected, though it doesn’t make the characters likable.
I also like the scene where Chelsea sees a ton of missing posters on the wall in the store – it is nice foreshadowing for what is to come.
I like the scenes where they are trying to come up with band names: Oral Panic Party and Societal Scum are my two favorite options.
I wish they had included more little moments like this – it brings the characters to life and, even though it is a very short moment, made me smile and gave the characters some much-needed personality and individualization.
I also like the line: Yeah, well, there’s a lot of crazy animals in this park.
I know that’s a little on-the-nose (the ranger is the crazy animal!) but I liked the reference.
I do like the way that they set up that Chelsea is familiar with the outdoors, with guns, and knows these woods – that’s why she is going to survive when things get bad.
She is also really in charge and it is nice to see a character in a horror movie thinking rationally (or at least like a normal human being) when things start to go down the drain.
It takes a little while, but when the bullets start flying (literally that is what starts the action) things get really intense really quickly.
Also, at least the kids react to the shots in a reasonable way – calling for help on the walkie-talkies and making a run for their vehicle to get their wounded friend to a hospital.
It is a good twist that they are on the run from the cops, so calling the police is not an option for them.
I do like how resourceful the one kid is (on IMDB it says his name was Abe, but I don’t think anyone ever calls him that) – he gets his foot ripped off before the ranger can shoot him, but instead of giving up or dying in the woods, he still manages to get to the van and start it. Good for you, man. Good for you.
Super creepy that the ranger has a bunch of pictures of Chelsea when she was younger in his cabin.
I also really like the twist – it was Chelsea who killed her uncle when she was younger, not the park ranger – he had actually covered it up for her!
The film goes from Green Room to Misery towards the end when the ranger kidnaps Chelsea and chains her up. It worked for me and I didn’t mind the way the story shifted – it directly references the introduction by having both the ranger and Chelsea sit across from a long table from each other and talk.
Chelsea literally beating the ranger almost to death with own binoculars was super bloody, but pretty cool.
I also liked how they didn’t CGI the wolf at the end – yeah, it was a really on-the-nose way to show that she had become a wolf, but man, I have seen a lot of bad CGI on woodland creatures recently and so this was a refreshing change.
What Needed Work
I liked the intro with the creepy ranger talking to the little girl, but I wish we had more of a horror open – which could have stayed exactly the way it was, but maybe when they were talking we pulled back to reveal some dead bodies or the ranger had blood on his hands or something.
The characters are pretty unlikable – that is an issue with many horror pieces because if you don’t care about these characters then when they run into the danger/monster/killer there is very little tension because you don’t care one way or another if they live or die.
Man, they are on the run for murder of a police officer and then they are going to antagonize a park ranger? Have they ever heard of “Keep a low profile?”
Not just does harassing the ranger make no sense in terms of the plot, but it adds nothing to our understanding of the characters other than that they are all pretty obnoxious.
Also, Chelsea seems much smarter and more put-together than any of her punk friends which makes it seem strange that she would hang out with them or be anywhere near these people.
I really like that even the murderous ranger points that out: The girl I knew wouldn’t be runnin’ with them kind of kids.
You tell her, killer park ranger. You tell her.
Her friends are really so unbelievably nasty it took me out of the film – for example, when Chelsea is describing how she spent summers up in the cabin with her uncle, one of the “friends” says: I’d fucking kill myself if I had to spend the summer up here alone.
I mean, come on. Even the douche-y-ist douche doesn’t talk like that.
Once again, they are trying to keep a low-profile, but they start tagging trees with spray paint all around the area with their names and band symbol. It’s just stupid.
They also missed a big play here – these kids are drug addicts on the run from the cops – they should and would be going into withdrawal after a short time and the film could have played with this and the sense that maybe their fear and/or the things they are seeing are a result of the drug withdrawal and not actually happening.
This is the actual line delivered when they stumble across a body with half of its face eaten off: He’s dead.
Not sure how I feel about the ranger spouting park rules that the kids have broken right before he kills them. It is silly, but I don’t know if it is on purpose and I am not sure if it worked for me.
That said, I do like the exchange:
PUNK: What’s your deal, man?
RANGER: My deal is to keep trash out of these woods.
Ranger proceeds to kill Punk #3.
Ooooohhhh…. Kkkk…. The ranger covering himself in a wolf’s pelt and then crawling around on the floor naked was supposed to be creepy, but I found myself laughing which isn’t what you want.
I do wish the character of the ranger had been built up a little more – I know what he did, but I am still not totally sure why he did these things and why he has been killing people for years, other than that he is deranged and is obsessed with the park rules (and just rules in general)
Garth (the boyfriend) just getting shot in the chest was not enough of a death for him. He was so unlikable that I wanted him to get one of the most intense deaths – he deserved it.
I don’t really understand why she chases the ranger up the watchtower – I mean, I know it is so that we can get a climactic showdown, but it makes no sense – she has a gun, he is stuck up there and wounded and there is literally only one way up and one way down. She could have just waited him out.
I also didn’t need for the ranger to literally say what happened to Chelsea’s uncle – we get it, she shot him – we saw it and we really didn’t need to hear it from you.
RENT IT! Check this one out if you are a fan of horror or slashers or if you were a fan of Green Room which the team behind this film obviously were.
The lead character of Chelsea was really well-defined and had a nicely mapped out character arc. There are some issues that I had with the film (annoying characters behaving irrationally), but overall I would say that it is worth a watch if you are a horror-fan and is a strong effort by all involved.
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