When we checked out new Shudder arrival The Ranger recently (review here - http://bit.ly/2P1jrq9) we were really keen to speak to director Jenn Wexler and dig a little deeper into both the film and her thoughts on horror at large.

Not only were we able to set that up, but star Chloe Levine and producer Heather Buckley came along for the ride, which turned into a near-hour conversation on The Ranger, slasher villains, women in horror, pink hair – and more.

It was an absolute blast, so hope you enjoy it…

Q. Dialling it right back, what was the genesis for The Ranger?

Jenn: I’ve always wanted to direct – I was directing short films before I went in to producing features. I went to school for screenwriting and The Ranger was an idea my classmate had and he wrote it for his senior screenplay. I always thought it was a cool idea – punks versus the park ranger – but when we all graduated we needed to get jobs and pay the rent, so all of our projects kind of went into drawers for a while. Years later, when I was working for Glass Eye Pix and I was producing films, I wanted to direct a feature and I remembered The Ranger. I asked my classmate (Giaco Furino) if he could find it and we could work on it together and I would direct it. There was just so much in it that appealed to me – even when you say punks versus park ranger you have the clash between rebellion and authority, and I had visions of EC Comics colours. I just thought it would be a really fun world to explore.

Q. Was there a tipping point where you realised ‘wow, this is actually going to get made’?

Jenn: I think when we were going through the casting process it started to feel real. Certainly getting the money in the bank is a big thing, as when you get that you think the movie is really going. Then you start hoping nothing goes wrong, but there is always that bit of fear in pre-production – especially when you are telling people when everything is going to start and they are saying no to other jobs.

Q. The Ranger seems like it was very much a ‘team’ project. How easy was it to put the team together that you wanted?

Jenn: I think it was 2015 when I shared a version of the script with Heather (Buckley) and she, as a friend, started giving me notes and loads of cool, inspiring images for the look. Then we headed to a co-production market at Fantasia Fest to pitch and that is where we met Andrew van den Houten (producer).

Q. Can you talk to us about the casting? What was it about Chloe that made you want her for the lead?

Jenn: I remember I was at SXSW 2017 and I saw The Transfiguration and I just thought Chloe’s face was absolutely mesmerising.

Chloe: I thought the role was really interesting. It played with genre tropes and I really like horror movies that do that. The role was insane really – she is going through a lot of things and in many ways Chelsea is outgrowing her friends as she tries to deal with a lot of perverse stuff that happened to her as a kid. She is in a crazy world but it is full of seriousness – it’s like wild insanity littered with blood and colour – and that really appealed to me.

Q. The character of the Ranger himself is such a great creation – in fact, for some of the film I was actually on his side! It seems like a part that could very easily have become parody, but you keep pulling it back in and reminding the audience that this is still a serious film…

Jenn: Yeah, I remember when we were on set Jeremy (Holm) kept asking me about how much we should be aware of the humour – should he be winking at the audience. I said no, the ranger should really believe what he is doing. It’s like the phrase ‘every villain is the hero in their own story’. I remember when I was writing the script I started following these park ranger blogs and you could see some of these guys would get really upset that people were not listening to them. There was almost a resentment towards the campers sometimes so that was definitely something that we embraced.

Heather: We are also good friends with Jill Sixx and she cuts hair as a day job. She was cutting an actual park ranger’s hair and they were talking about our movie. Apparently the rangers had been talking about the movie on their facebook page – some have even reached out for posters.

Q. Maybe you could get the National Park signage to use the film’s tagline – ‘Thousands of people visit this park every year. Not everyone leaves…’

Jenn: Totally (laughs). Perhaps we could talk to the government about that…

Jenn Wexler

Q. How did you find the experience of directing a feature? Was it how you expected it to be?

Jenn: I had been a very hands-on producer on a couple of films, so I was used to being on set. When trouble came up, I would help to solve it, basically being another brain to bounce things off of. I had actually thought a lot about how I was going to handle the different elements of The Ranger, so nothing really came to me as a surprise. What I would say though was that it was really fun – I found this new part of myself during the process. It was also the first time I had edited a movie and that was a really interesting process – I just wanted to be in a room alone with all of my footage. I did the first cut and then I brought in another editor (Abbey Killheffer) and she came in and killed off some of my darlings. It certainly didn’t put me off – in fact I want to direct all the time now.

Q. You also directed a short earlier in your career Chloe – is that something you would like to try again?

Chloe: Sure – I’d definitely do it again. I’m working on some of my own stuff at the moment but can’t say too much…

Q. Sound is a really important part of The Ranger. You have the music element, the sounds of silence and nature, the gunshot sounds echoing through the forest and even some unsettling wolf ‘chewing’ sound effects. Was an emphasis on sound the basis for the movie?

Jenn: Absolutely. First of all I have to give a shout out to Shawn Duffy who is our sound designer. I had worked with him on a couple of projects before and he is amazing to work with. The gunshot sounds especially were so important to me, as guns are such a theme in the movie. It is weird how things effect you – maybe not even consciously – but we live in a society where every two days you turn on the TV and there has been another school shooting or some terrible incident. I have seen people talking about The Ranger and they say ‘well, it is a slasher but he doesn’t really slash people, he shoots them’. But for me guns are terrifying and I think in some ways I was probably expressing some angst or even rage through that.

Q. A film like this usually lends talk to sequel possibilities. Is there scope for a The Ranger 2 at all?

Jenn: We certainly have concepts, but I’m not sure I can talk about them. I think the Ranger is a great character – I was really interested in combining the Michael Myers/Jason Voorhees figure with the one-liners of Freddy Kreuger.

Heather: I think the great thing Jenn did with the Ranger character was to give him layers. You know what the film is going to be about, but he wasn’t going to just be some silhouette – did you know that when you were writing it?

Jenn: I knew it in a subconscious way and as I make more movies I hope it does become conscious. I think being such a big fan of horror movies and having watched so many I just think they are in my DNA and my spinal cord and there were quite a few things when I was like ‘it just has to be this way – I cannot express why, but it has to be.’ For me it was a case of listening to that voice and trusting that voice.

Heather: If there is to be a sequel, we are going to need some fan love!

Jenn: (Laughs) Absolutely. What I would say is working with this cast and crew was a dream and I would love to work with them again.

Q. Obviously Heather, you have the punk background, but for the cast how easy was it to ‘fake’ the punk lifestyle on screen?

Heather: Jenn obviously has the influences that she used – Return of the Living Dead, Class of 84 and stuff like that. What I can say is that I, and all other punks, love looking at punks on screen. There seems to be two kinds of punks you see on screen – the ‘media punks’, which seem to be this mix of English punk and New Wave, and the reality which is something like Suburbia or Alan Clark movies, which are very sincere and very realistic. The guys in our film are East Coast and they have a British sense of humour in many ways, in that if you love someone you make fun of them – there is a lot of ball-busting. So actually Jenn nailed a lot of it and when I read the script I was like ‘how did you know?’ With the look of the band Jenn wanted them to look iconic in a different way, so we researched into the real thing for the iconic looks. Over time the media punks and the real punks started to fuse together in the late 80s and early 90s and they started to look like one another. The look in the film is probably early 90s.

Jenn: Yeah, it’s like a Back To The Future type thing…Actually we never set an exact time for the film, I just referred to it as an 80s dreamland. I wanted it to be a mix of all these punk movies and Smokey the Bear.

Heather: There was a lot of really obsessive stuff, like how to lace shoes, do they have the right patches on their jackets, their hair. Chloe literally had her hair stripped down to blonde, then made it pink…

Chloe: Yep, they killed my hair – it’s true.

Jenn: I think the people that it matters to will notice that detail. Even if you don’t actually acknowledge it, you are probably still feeling it in your soul.

Q. Obviously you have toured the festivals with the film and it has gone down really well. What pleased you most about the reaction to the film?

Chloe: This might sound really stupid, but people with pink hair seem to like the movie…(laughs)

Jenn: Yeah, we really seem to have a connection with people with pink hair (laughs). The whole thing has actually been a very surreal experience. I thought I understood it as I have produced films before and gone through this process, but it is a completely new experience as a director. So much of getting the film made was just me sat in the corner, writing and editing and now it is an experience that people are having. It’s a surreal feeling – awesome, but surreal.

Q. Do you see the gender balance shifting in the genre at all? It is great sitting here with a female director, a female producer and a female lead…

Jenn: I didn’t have any female role models in the film world – I love my mom, and she was the role model for me. In the industry though, in terms of personal mentors, I had a lot of male mentors – and I am grateful to all of them and love them so much – but I never had any female mentors. There just hasn’t been women working in this area of the industry, and it is not for lack of wanting, but lack of opportunity.

Q. A couple of quick questions to finish. First up, considering The Ranger’s setting, what would you vote for as the best horror film set in the woods?

Chloe: Cabin In The Woods.

Jenn: Obviously The Blair Witch Project turned the industry on its head and set off a whole new genre of horror movies. Some movies are just so important and that was one of them.

Heather: Does Texas Chainsaw Massacre count? (thinks) Actually, being the sick person that I am, I’m probably going to go with The Last House On The Left.

Jenn: Actually, I’m going to go with Evil Dead because I find so much inspiration from Sam Raimi and how he went out and just made that movie. The creativity that they used, the vibe, the approach, thematically it is great.

Q. Lastly, who would you vote for as the best slasher villain?

Heather: For me, Jason in Friday the 13th Part VII. I just think he looks beautiful in that film – and he’s a juggernaut.

Jenn: I’m going to say Mick Taylor from Wolf Creek because he’s so personable. I do like the hulking villain who just lumbers after you, but there’s something about the personality that really lures me in, so on that note I also want to say Patrick Bateman.

Heather: Would you define Patrick Bateman as a slasher?

Jenn: I wouldn’t define American Psycho as a slasher, but he is a serial killer.

Chloe: Pennywise, although is he a slasher? I like both versions – Bill Skarsgard and Tim Curry.

Thanks so much to Jenn Wexler, Chloe Levine and Heather Buckley for their time – and to Kaila Hier for setting it up

About The Author

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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