The slasher movie, for all its fun, has often been noted for carrying conservative overtones, especially prominent in the heat of the sub-genre in the 1980’s. The victims usually being rebellious teens who smoke, drink, have pre-marital sex and disregard authority and the rules, leading them to an untimely and often gruesome demise with the ‘final’ girl usually being the pure member of the group. Now comes a slasher movie where the entire cast are delinquents fighting a psychotic authority figure in Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger!
The story follows Chelsea (Chloe Levine) as she takes her punk friends to her family’s old cabin in the woods so they can evade the police after her boyfriend Garth (Granit Lahu) stabs a cop. The gang has a bag of drugs, punk music, shop-lifted food, and enough beer to last. But they couldn’t foresee their biggest obstacle being one psychotically overzealous Park Ranger (Jeremy Holm) who doesn’t take kindly to miscreants running amok in his woods…
At its core, The Ranger is a traditional slasher film. You got teens going out into the forest only to encounter a crazed killer who starts picking them off one-by-one for their perceived misdeeds. But it is in fact more than that. It’s the 80’s-set slasher Green Room evocative of Return Of The Living Dead (with a few homages) with a full-on cast of punk rockers in a life or death battle with an insane authority figure. On that note, Jeremy Holm really stands out as the titular Ranger.
Affable, kindly, and dead serious about the rules and regulations of ‘his’ mountain. He’s in total contrast to our group of punks, appearing in the beginning prologue set to Charlie Rich’s pop-country hit “The Most Beautiful Girl” in opposition to the hardcore punk soundtrack and themes of the main cast. But he meets all the staples of slasher villains that have come before him. Slaughtering delinquents for minor transgressions while spouting one-liners and using his ranger theme and gear to deadly and brutal ends. Every scene he emerges from the woods like the forest’s ghoulish guardian is always a memorable one. More Psycho Cop than Freddy Krueger, but with the outdoors themes of Jason Voorhees and the killer of The Final Terror. An unhinged naturalist who seems obsessed with ‘survival of the fittest’, and Chelsea in particular.
Chelsea herself stands out as our lead. She shares the same rebellious nature of her friends, but even she is disgusted by their shallow disdain for the nature around her family’s cabin. Deriding them for spray painting trees and setting unsafe bonfires, she shares more qualities with the ranger than she’d care to admit. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, even when she comes into conflict with her friends. Questioning Garth’s plans and how they’re going to outrun the law. She’s resourceful and knows her way in the wilderness with secrets about her past to the cabin and The Ranger to be seen.
The rest of the punk crew are interesting in their own ways. Jerk (Jeremy Pope) and Abe (Bubba Weiler) are a gay couple who genuinely love and care for one another, in stark contrast to Chelsea and Garth’s often tense relationship. Amber (Amanda Grace Benitez) is the more laid back punk, contrasting Chelsea in both hair and attitude. The cast does well in displaying their friendship through the movie as they go from the raided punk show to the van and into the woods. Which makes it genuinely heartfelt when tragedy and horror befalls them. The cast of characters are actual characters with relationships with one another that shows they do truly care about one another, a lynchpin that is sadly absent from many films of the genre. Director Jenn Wexler has made a slasher movie that absolutely feels genuine in everything from story to tone. Though genre throwback movies are a dime-a-dozen nowadays, The Ranger treats the slasher themes and punk aesthetic respectfully, with comedy mainly coming from it, instead of at it.
Overall, if you’re looking for something that feels like it came from the horror heydays of the eighties, The Ranger comes recommended. The Ranger is in select theaters in New York and will be hitting VOD and Digital in September.