The beauty of small theatres is that they act as little pockets of experimentation. They are smaller and more adaptable and willing to try lots of different things to get people in the door. That’s why last week Screenland Armour hosted a kick-ass free screening of The Ranger directed by Jenn Wexler. A small budget slasher film with a fiesty independent spirit was exactly what I needed to start the work week.
The Ranger at its core is a movie about a girl whose uncle dies in the woods only to be rescued by a forest ranger. The titular ranger (Jeremy Holm) is not the good guy he seems. Years later Chelsea(Chloe Levine) now a young woman runs with a group of punk rockers. During a raid on a night club they are hanging out in the group shoot a police officer and decide a cabin in the woods is the perfect place to run to. Chelsea leads the group to the cabin her deceased uncle bequeathed her. The ranger recognizing Chelsea begins to come after her and her friends.
The Ranger leans into its label as a a punk rock slasher. All of the characters would willingly define themselves by that label. They go to punk rock concerts, they dress punk, and most importantly they have that fuck you mentality we commonly associate with that genre. That being said as we are establishing our main characters the punk rock label is never a mask our characters can hide behind/ If they are assholes, they are punk assholes. If they are ditzy and silly than they are ditzy and silly punks. In short punk rock is not a panacea for everyone’s personality issues. I appreciate that level of introspection. It gives a fullness to the characters that makes the punkness of the movie feel more like a contribution as opposed to a contrivance.
The soundtrack is absolutely bonkers. Comprised mostly of west coast punk the sountrack is a wonderful hodgepodge of new and old. You will find Rotten UK, The Polyester Wags, and The Lobstrosities to name a few on this absolutely killer mix tape. It is clear that the soundtrack was handled with the same loving care the movie was given which is a truly rare thing nowadays.
The acting in this movie by the supporting cast is serviceable. There is no one stealing scenes from Chelsea or the ranger. They are mostly standins for traditional slasher archetypes only with punk and modern sensibilities. Two of the punks happen to be gay which interjects a level of modernity to the slasher subgenre that some are all too fast to label conservative.
Chloe Levine is an absolute star. She emotes more with her giant eyes than most do with their entire bodies. Levine plays Chelsea with a richness that helps the audience grasp her level of damage without painting her as a victim. She is a survivor and in a punk rock fantasy that is about as good as it gets. Jeremy Holm plays a great goofy villain. I am not quite sure if he is going for campy or realism and this indecision prevented me from ever deciding if this character is really fully developed. There is a bit with some wolf skin and some howling that totally lost me towards the end of the film.
That being said if his only job is to create peril for Chelsea he did his job and in that context plays an excellent foil. The only real criticism I have of The Ranger is that it tries to do too much. Chelsea is a survivor. It’s coded into every fiber of her being. We do not need the not so subtle imagery especially at the end that reinforces that idea. I wish Wexler would have trusted us a bit more. That being said this is really a small criticism in what is an incredibly fun movie.
I think it is clever to interject punk rock into this type of movie. The villain is a white male and our hero a woman. That within itself is not a new take on the slasher genre. The utter absence of the male gaze is however. Wexler allows her hero to be complex. She was a survivor long before the ranger ever started his rampage and the fact that it did not take a man to bring that out is pretty bad ass in its own right. This is not the last we will see and hear of Wexler. We are ready for her to apply the same punk rock sensibility to other subgenres. Do Weird movies next please Jenn!
If you are a fan of Punk Rock, this is your movie. If you are a fan of slasher movies, this is your movie. If you like new and innovative takes on horror movies generally, this is your movie. It may be difficult to find until it receives a wider release this year but find it if you can. You will be rewarded as the film is incredibly fun if not super groundbreaking. Sometimes that is exactly what we want. Also you can enjoy flipping the bird to the park services. What a bunch of jerks. Just kidding park rangers are awesome people, title character not withstanding :).
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.