In Jenn Wexler’s film, The Ranger, a group of teens take off into the woods to party and piss off the locals. Sound familiar? On the surface, The Ranger does have a lot in common with many of the cabin in the woods slasher subgenre flicks that we’ve seen over the years, but let me tell you, this one is different. And that’s a good thing.
Brought to us by Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pics, No Place to Party LLC and Hood River Entertainment Production, The Ranger was the debut feature length film for Director Jenn Wexler (Darling 2015) and was co-written by Wexler and her Most Beautiful Island alum, Giaco Furino. The cast includes Chloe Levine (The Transfiguration 2016), Jeremy Holm (Mr. Robot TV series), Bubba Weiler (The Good Fight TV series), Granit Lahu (The Sinner TV series), Jeremy Pope, Amanda Grace Benitez (All Cheerleaders Die 2013), Jeté Laurence (Pet Sematary 2019) and cult classic legend Larry Fessenden (Jug Face 2013, I Sell the Dead 2008, the upcoming Depraved).
Besides Wexler and Fessenden, producers include The Woman’s (2011) Andrew van den Houten (14 Cameras 2018), Heather Buckley (We Are Still Here 2015) and Ashleigh Snead (The Outer Wild 2018). Composer Andrew Gordon Macpherson (Far Cry 5 video game) created the score while Special FX Artists Brian Spears (Stakelander 2016, V/H/S 2012, The Punisher TV series) and Ashley K. Thomas (The Transfiguration 2016) were behind the bloody effects.
The Ranger’s Official Synopsis:
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.
The Ranger follows pink-haired Chelsea (Levine), a teen who uses drugs and a rapid-fire punk rock attitude to keep her guilt-ridden childhood memories at bay. She surrounds herself with other leather-clad delinquents who rebel for the sake of rebelling, and think being on the run from The Law is about as awesome as life could get. When Chelsea’s boyfriend, Garth (Lahu), stabs a cop in a Pink-infused mania, he’s overjoyed that his life of insurrection and sedition can finally begin in earnest.
The teens’ friends, Jerk (Pope), Abe (Weiler) and Amber (Benitez), are all on board and ready to buck the ultimate system, but Chelsea’s conscience burns with the memories of the young cop’s bloody assault. When Garth convinces her to let them all hide out in her family’s mountain cabin, memories of her summers up there with Uncle Pete (Fessenden) surface. It’s obvious that something good and then something bad happened between her and her uncle, but Chelsea continues to repress those memories… until she’s confronted with a familiar face, the Robert Z’Dar-esque Ranger (Holm) who helped her after her uncle’s death in the woods.
It’s here that the horror really begins. The Ranger recognizes Chelsea and sees something simpatico within her, assuming she’s a rule-abiding stickler like he is… that is, until he meets her loud, obnoxious, forest-destroying friends. Add into the mix that the Ranger is literally bloody insane about the rules of the mountain, and you’ve got quite a predicament for poor Chelsea.
The idea of mixing two complete opposites together to see what happens is not a new one. The Odd Couple showed us that. But imagine the horror show if Felix went on a bloody rampage every time Oscar deliberately left his dirty socks in the living room. Then there’s Chelsea, the girl in the middle of it all, loved by both teams, who must choose between Uncle Pete’s quiet mountain existance and the frenetic chaos of the life of a punk rocker. Of course, the choice becomes clear when she sees what the Ranger has squirreled away in his basement. As for the mountain policeman… he just needs the girl to see that she’s just like him. But is she?
I love the combination of punkers vs. law-abiding forest warden. Both sides think their choice is the only way to live and, despite your own opinion on the subject, you can see pros and cons to each argument. Director/Writer Jenn Wexler was able to showcase the positives to each side without making either one an over the top caricature of itself. Although several reviews that I have read call this a detriment, crying that Holm’s Ranger should have been a pun-spewing, scenery-chewing Psycho Cop, I personally loved that he wasn’t. It would have been so easy to just dump the character into that one-note role and leave him there, but instead, Wexler chose to steer clear of the caricature, making him a more indepth (albeit insane) and relatable person. The Ranger was much more Norman Bates than Officer Joe Vickers, which, to me, is a much harder row to hoe.
Including so many wolf analogies and symbolism was also an ingenious move by Wexler. It may seem like any easy choice, giving the mountain location of the film, but the allegory of the big, bad wolf, a symbol of Fairy Tale nightmares, the loner who always gets what it wants, no matter whose face it has to chew off to get it, is one ingrained in the human psyche as something nearly as evil and bloodthirsty as the snake from the Garden of Eden. To be one with the wolf means being apart from the rest of society. And, despite the fact that neither side can see it, both the solitary Ranger and the punk kids are much more similar in that regard than different.
I also need to talk about the film’s music, the best freaking punk soundtrack since 1984’s Repo Man. There were samplings from FANG, The Lobstrosities, The Polyester Wags, The NERV, The GRIM and The Authorities. Much like Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, the music becomes a character in the film, expressing rage and defiance as it urges the teens on like a hate-fueled cheering section.
The Ranger is a roundhouse kick of a slasher film with a killer soundtrack, relatable characters and a decent chunk of bloody gore. The neon colors and twitchy double vision create the teen’s steamy, inebriated atmosphere that contrasts perfectly with the serene, muted environment of the Ranger’s mountains. The film takes a bit to get to the slaughter, but there’s never a dull moment as the characters are created and the thread of Chelsea’s sanity grows ever taughter. The bear trap scene alone will satisfy all you gorehounds. Slasher fans, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
Check out my interview with Director Jenn Wexler and stay tuned for an interview with Actor/Producer Larry Fessenden!