Jenn Wexler’s ballsy, brutal, energetic retro slasher The Ranger got the Frightfest party off to a flyer – tapping in to the current 80s genre craze to give the audience a welcome jolt of punk-infused horror.

Throwing in a memorable lead villain (the titular Ranger), a lead actress that really delivers in the ‘Final Girl’ stakes and a fabulous use of sound, the film proves a rollicking good time for all.

If there is a weak point in the brew it is the film’s opening scenes, which introduce us to a rag-tag bunch of musicians attempting to thrive in the underground music scene, a drug-fuelled den of guitars, coke and brushes with the law.

But when those ‘brushes’ escalate to a cop being knifed by one of the band – ringleader Garth – the punks are forced to go on the run, piling into a van and heading to the hills where fellow member Chelsea has a long-abandoned cabin.

The trouble at this stage is that none of the characters are particularly likeable – I’m not sure they are meant to be – although Chelsea has clearly been earmarked as the one with at least a sensitive side, an outsider in a group of outsiders if you will.

When the gang hit the woods the attitude remains the same, with the rebel-rousers lighting fires, spray-painting trees and suchlike, despite Chelsea’s attempts to bring them into line.

Enter the Ranger, keen to right these wrongs and ensure that park law is very much followed to the letter – even if he has to kill to prove it…

The Ranger is a very episodic film, and after the brash opening the arrival of the Ranger as stalker sees the film enter old-school slasher style, with the gang separating and being picked off in crowd-pleasingly brutal ways.

Jeremy Holm as the Ranger himself makes for a fantastic adversary, spouting National Park bylaws while gutting someone, although Wexler handles the tone deftly – yes, it is humorous, but never to the point of it becoming parody.

With the band’s bravado and bluster having been stripped away in a desperate fight for survival (one band member even calls out for his mother at one point) it is Chelsea’s turn to take centre stage – and boy does Chloe Levine run with the role.

Eager to fit in – but keen to distance herself from the gang’s antics at the same time, Chelsea has a layered back story that is peeled away through the film’s hectic running time – a story that involves not only the Ranger, but genre favourite Larry Fessenden as uncle Pete.

And Levine certainly makes the audience buy into her plight – vulnerable yet resourceful, with her eyes portraying as much emotion as the dialogue (if not more) at times, Levine builds on her performance in The Transfiguration to earmark her as a genre favourite waiting to happen.

The look of the film is strong, with in-your-face colour schemes clashing with idyllic nature at its finest, and that clash is also evident in the film’s sound, with aggressive punk tunes juxtaposed with the park’s sounds of silence, further juxtaposed with some juicy sound effects during the movie’s bloody sequences. (I should also compliment the use of Charlie Rich’s ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ as I have that on my itunes playlist, although considering its use in the film I’m not sure what that says about me…)

Being Frightfest’s opening film always piles pressure on a movie that can often buckle under that weight (Cherry Tree anyone?), but The Ranger delivers attitude in spades and certainly thrusts Wexler into the mix as a talent to watch out for.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: The Ranger
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About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle