Jenn Wexler’s rough-and-ready, punk-inspired slasher might have those familiar 80s vibes, with its cabin-in-the-woods setting and a little blast of synth floating through the soundtrack here and there, but it’s far from another Carpenter/Cunningham clone. In fact, The Ranger, Wexler’s feature debut as a director, probably shares a little more in common with Carpenter’s early cohort Dan O’Bannon, and his punk-themed zom-com Return of the Living Dead. Lots of leather, laughs, and an antagonist to remember.
Escaping to the woods after a near-fatal run-in with the police, Chloe Levine’s Chelsea and her band find themselves stalked by a particularly difficult park ranger, who’s a little too in touch with the local mountain’s laws and regulations.
It’s a pretty standard slasher set-up, and one which Wexler happily celebrates and subverts in equal measure, taking the classic backbone of your garden variety Friday the 13th, and diluting it down with a hefty dose of black humour, and a much deeper lead.
Levine gives her Chelsea so much more than the usual final girl allows, plugging into her background neatly (there’s a few uneven flashbacks too, which might be a bit much) and chasing off any and every “strong-independent-woman” stereotype that ever gets close. Having a female voice behind the camera no doubt made a difference too, but Levine’s turn here is quite a few touches above what you’d usually expect from a low-rent genre release like The Ranger. She’s socially-sound, makes all the right decisions and easily deserves a spot among the very best recent slasher heroines.
But none of it really matters in a horror if you don’t feel the danger, and Jeremy Holm’s eponymous Ranger is a deliciously mad-faced, trooper-shade-toting, one-liner-spitting master of the craft. A hardcore Johnny-Law turned up to 11, he’s a one-man army, towering over his victims and stealing away the film’s funniest and most crowd-pleasing moments by far. A slasher is only really as good as its killer, and Holm’s is happily one for the ages.
In ditching most of the stylised 80s garb that so often lumps these sorts of throwbacks together, painting over the gaps with a pair of killer leads and a tonally-perfect sense of humour, Jenn Wexler’s made a slasher that actually feels new. And while it might not be the most visually inventive, or have the flashiest of budgets, its a fun new-look at just how much life is still left in the genre.
The Ranger was screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.