Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger

Park rangers are always kind of benign, often goofy and only vaguely threatening figures in cinema, they’re not quite cops, not quite tradesmen and the archetype for writers has always been a blurred line. Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger brazenly shakes that up and draws a firm delineation in the campfire dirt here for an utterly ruthless, absolutely fantastic grindhouse romp that packs a punch to the gut and a kick to the nuts. Teenage punk runaway Chelsea (Chloë Levine) has fuzzy memories of an encounter with a strange park Ranger (Jeremy Holm) when she was young at her deceased uncle’s cabin, briefly before being carted off to the foster care system. Years later and she has fallen in with the wrong crowd, a group of heavy metal brats who inadvertently kill a cop and drag her on the run, eventually ending up in the same national park her uncle’s cabin is in. Naturally, the Ranger is still there too and has made it his personal mission to hunt and kill anyone who wanders into his jurisdiction which now includes Chelsea and all her friends. This is a grisly, fucked up, jaggedly stylish exercise in knowingly lowbrow horror in the tradition of stuff like Cop Car, Wolf Creek and The Hitcher where one archetypal madman roams the enclaves of his realm and stalks anyone who ventures there. Holm is a twisted revelation as The Ranger, possessive of the kind of stalwart, clean cut, Kennedy-esque aura that is all the more unnerving when we see just how cuckoo bananas mentally deranged and wantonly homicidal he is. I appreciated a really fascinating psychological dynamic between he and Chelsea as well, a mysterious mental link that goes back to her childhood near the cabin and is revealed bit by bit in hazy hallucinatory flashbacks. Set to a brain melting nebula of heavy metal and synth music that clashes wonderfully with the wilderness palette, acted to the nines by Levine and Holm (the rest of the teens verge on camp but that’s half the fun) and wound tightly into a blood drenched, visceral mind-game mentality that’s just scrappy enough around the edges, this is a rip-snortin indie worth it for any fan of raw, torqued up exploitation horror, streaming now on Shudder.

-Nate Hill

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