When a horror film combines many of your favorite things, it could be a guaranteed success if a film serves those things justice or it could be a devastating blow to watch those things explored in unexciting ways. With The Ranger, two things that I hold near and dear to my heart, punk music and national parks, are thrown together to craft a slasher, with both elements ultimately being treated respectfully. The film, on the other hand, is an homage to a very specific type of cheesy slasher film that I don’t at all care for, but others might find joy in.
Set in the ’80s, a group of friends in the punk scene decides they are going to start selling drugs as their source of income, only for the cops to bust up their plans, resulting in one of the friends fatally wounding one of the officers. Needing a place to lay low, Chelsea (Chloe Levine) offers up her uncle’s cabin in a nearby national park that will allow them to regroup and figure out their next move. The friends cross paths with a park ranger (Jeremy Holm) who has a strange connection to Chelsea’s past, only for the friends to disrespect the ranger’s advice on treating the park with care. Once they reach the cabin, the punks continue to ignore the rules of ensuring the park’s safety, which is a mistake they’ll all begin paying for in deadly ways.
Rarely do films offer authentic portrayals of the punk scene, but The Ranger delivers a genuine interpretation of the outcasts. The key component in these interpretations being that these characters are abrasive and obnoxious as hell, which typically goes hand-in-hand with someone who dyes their hair pink and covers their leather jacket with spikes; punks aim to shake up the status quo and that often means rejecting societal norms. In that regard, The Ranger is sure to appeal to a specific horror demographic, as you genuinely hate these characters and want to see them become fodder for the murderer as quickly as possible, which is another staple of certain ’80s slashers.
The Ranger also never takes itself too seriously, as rules from the park service are often spoken before a character suffers a violent end, preventing the villain from ever being intimidating but rather a comedic persona who also happens to have a sadistic streak. I’m not big on slashers from the get-go, so adding in the goofiness was just another turn-off of the whole experience. Unfortunately, the film’s practical effects weren’t all that effective, making it difficult to even take joy in grisly death scenes.
Co-writer/director Jenn Wexler knows her shit when it comes to the horror genre, having produced films like Darling and Psychopaths, with The Ranger feeling like an opportunity to make her directing debut for a minimal budget with a relatively thin story. I found little to get excited about with The Ranger, but I know that the tone is sure to connect with fans of films like the Slumber Party Massacre franchise, so who gives a shit if it’s not for everybody? I know that The Ranger will find its audience, even if I’m not part of it, while I look forward to what Wexler works on next.
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