The Ranger


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Ranger
"Horror has taken us to cabins in the woods many times before, but it has rarely done so with such spirit."

The Ranger opens with a little girl, shaken in the aftermath of a terrible accident, being looked after by its title character. He takes her to his cabin, talks to her gently, feeds her a sandwich - white bread with the crusts removed. Jenn Wexler's precise framing and James Siewert's luminous cinematography recall the best of Disney's live action children's films from the 1970s, yet one can't shake the feeling that here, something is amiss. Something that goes much further than the horror young Chelsea has just seen.

Flash forward a decade and Chelsea is a pink-haired teenager in a small gang of punks, with a leather-clad juvenile delinquent boyfriend who is pushing some kind of pink amphetamine. When the police raid the club they're in and said boyfriend takes drastic action, the gang are forced to go on the run, returning to the wilderness where we began. Chelsea hasn't visited her family cabin there for many long years, and is immediately uncomfortable, struggling to grasp something she can't quite remember - a feeling that grows still more intense when she encounters the ranger again. Soon the teenagers discover that the woods can be every bit as dangerous as the city. They will need all their wits - a commodity they're not strong on to begin with - just to survive.

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Horror has taken us to cabins in the woods many times before, but it has rarely done so with such spirit. Far from the usual parade of identikit teens, these young people are complicated and obnoxious and quite adorable, with great chemistry between the actors showing us the intensity of their friendship. Giaco Furino and Wexler's astute script works on multiple levels, alerting us to the gulf between the way they see themselves and the way outsiders see them. Chelsea often finds herself caught in the middle, loving them but struggling to take them seriously. As she tries to persuade them not to smoke in the cabin and chides them for spraypainting trees, she still seems concerned about seeming uncool - but as circumstances grow more desperate, she begins to realise that everything depends on her choices, her courage and her willingness to change.

A gloriously vivid colour palette that pits proudly artificial pinks, blues and purples against the soft greens and browns of the forest emphasises the culture clash at the heart of this film, which in turn mirrors Chelsea's internal conflict. A bold yet nuanced performance from Chloe Levine (echoed by sterling work from Jeté Laurence as the younger version of Chelsea) gives the film a strong centre and keeps the audience focused. The technical work is superb throughout and Andrew Gordon Macpherson's music blends seamlessly with a stonking punk soundtrack as we move between different environments and different perspectives.

Though it's her first feature as director, Wexler's work is assured and the film exudes confidence. It opened Frightfest 2018, made a big impression at Fantasia and has been warmly received by critics and fans alike. Blending a playful Eighties vibe with a distinctly modern sensibility, it takes on themes much darker than mere murder yet never loses its spirit. The format may be familiar but the intelligence and energy with which the film is brought to life make it a real treat.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2018
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The Ranger packshot
A gang of young punks on the run from the cops encounter something nasty in the woods.

Director: Jenn Wexler

Writer: Giaco Furino, Jenn Wexler

Starring: Chloe Levine, Larry Fessenden, Amanda Grace Benitez, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler

Year: 2018

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US

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