A group of punk rockers must escape to the wilderness after their leader stabs a police officer during a drug raid. One of the Rockers, Chelsea (Chloe Levine), suggests they stay in her father’s cabin, where a mysterious tragedy befell her years earlier. As the friends relax into their new outlaw digs, Chelsea feels there is a presence watching them from the woods. Soon they must fight for survival against a merciless Park Ranger that pursues them. Can the punks survive the night and make it out of the 1980s? Very few did.
The Ranger hits familiar genre beats. A group of friends are isolated in the wilderness where a mysterious presence begins to target them one by one until a final girl must do battle with the monster. What differentiates the Ranger is that these particular kids are not innocent. They are all complicit with Garth’s act of stabbing the cop. Chelsea is the only character who appears concerned with this act, as the others all soon conform to conventional slasher movie victim archetypes. They party, and take their surrounds for granted and soon pay the price. They are, consequently and as opposed to their typical genre counterparts, fairly unsympathetic. For the most part this feel deliberate.
I couldn’t help but think of the trapped punks from Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. There the punk rock element adds a real sense of danger and volatility to proceedings. The characters are just a little bit more ready for the chaos to begin than most horror movie protagonists. In The Ranger the kid’s anarchic fronting is just a façade, hiding the same vulnerabilities shared by all slasher victims. It’s the moments of terror that make these kids relatable, not them at play.
The greatest strengths the film has are its two central characters, Chelsea and The Ranger. Chloe Levine and Jeremy Holm fully commit to their roles. Levine is a supremely vulnerable yet forceful presence. Holm is a fabulous killer. His gimmick of murdering these kids under the pretence of draconian park rules is very entertaining, made more so by Holm’s moustache twirling delight at his deeds.
Jennifer Wexler’s direction is interesting and maintains a relentless pace through. She makes good use of lighting and film stock (or the impression of different film stock) to invoke different time periods within the film. There are some suitably painful gore effects and suspenseful moments of anticipation.
The film builds to a tense and grimly satisfying conclusion. At a lean 77 minutes it’s a very concise exercise in old fashioned tension. The new elements don’t ultimately result in a reinvention of the slasher movie, but rather a very fine example of it. It’s fun, tense and just the right amount of silly. I would have liked to see the kid’s inherent guilt or the punk rock attitude play a greater role in the film, but not everything can be Green Room.