Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Despite the limited options available to the young travellers, Kitamura doesn't let the tension slack."

When you decide to carpool, you never know quite what you're going to get. 'Actually they're all really nice,' Sara (Alexa Yeames) texts to a friend, referring to the four strangers she and partner Todd (Rod Hernandez) have agreed to shuttle between cities. There's Jodi (Kelly Connaire), Eric (Anthony Kirlew), Keren (Stephanie Pearson) and some guy they think is called Jeff (Jason Tobias). Nobody asks him his name directly. He's shot dead before they get the chance.

It seems like a pretty mundane situation. They're taking the SUV along a remote country road when one of the tyres gets a puncture. Getting out, they discuss what to do, and quickly decide on a gendered division of labour: the women wave their phones around trying to find a signal so they can post to social media, whilst the men change the tyre. Then Jeff (or was it Josh?) gets shot. Sara stands gaping, unsure what she's seeing. Everything moves slowly as it's inclined to when one is in shock. Then Keren yells at everyone to get behind the car.

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The stage is set. There's little messing about. Keeping the characters (and audience) pinned like this for the whole film is a bold undertaking, but director Kitamura sticks with it, just as he sticks with Duel rools when it comes to the assailant, preserving the mystery. There could be any number of reasons why this is happening. When you're there by the side of the road in the hot sun, without much hope of rescue, reason can only get you so far.

It's not a new concept, of course. A recent example of young people trapped in a seemingly safe location would be The Sand, though this has none of that film's comic relief. The presence (and social connotations) of the SUV bring to mind Monolith and The Glass Coffin, both of which comment on the notion that it can provide security. Here, the best it can offer is a small amount of shelter; the assailant can't shoot all the way through it. Likewise the tree stump behind which Eric is sheltering, having dived the wrong way.

Despite the limited options available to the young travellers, Kitamura doesn't let the tension slack. He might have made more of it with stronger performances - Pearson is good and Hernandez impressive in places, but the rest of the cast don't have a lot to contribute. There are occasional lapses into formula - you'll know exactly when the tragic backstory is coming, for instance - but the overall structure is good and the multiple angles from which the action is captured provide plenty of visual interest even in essentially static scenes.

Like recent festival hit Killing Ground, Downrange is essentially a film about how difficult it can be to escape violence, and how easy it is for a single individual to wreak havoc if so inclined. There's a nihilism to this that hasn't been seen much in 21st Century horror - and given some of what we see here, horror is definitely the genre where it's most likely to find a home. It also includes an intriguing encounter with a wild animal which verges on the Gothic, subtly changing the tone of the film without moving too far away from realism.

From this, No One Lives and The Midnight Meat Train, one warning emerges: never share your transport with Kitamura.

Reviewed on: 16 Sep 2017
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A group of young people become targets after they are stranded by a tyre blowout.

Director: Ryûhei Kitamura

Writer: Ryƻhei Kitamura, Joey O'Bryan

Starring: Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson, Rod Hernandez, Anthony Kirlew, Alexa Yeames, Jason Tobias, Aion Boyd, Eric Matuschek, Ikumi Yoshimatsu, Hana Burson, Chris Powell, Graham Skipper, Nick Burson, Emory Lawrence

Year: 2017

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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