While the horror genre has often been maligned by the mainstream, it cannot be denied that it has helped filter and address some of the darkest issues and anxieties plaguing our society. Most prominently perhaps being the new wave of horror films to hit in the fallout of the Vietnam War with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead. Now, there is DOWNRANGE from director Ryuhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, VERSUS).

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The story follows a group of six friends on their way to a birthday party. Deciding to take the backroads of California, they end up with a flat on an isolated stretch of pavement surrounded by nature, with not another human soul for miles… so it seems. There’s a camo-covered sniper nearby armed with a hunting rifle, and he’s got his victims lined up in his scope. Now, the friends have to band together, use their wits, and try to find a way to survive this onslaught.

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In many ways, DOWNRANGE is the logical extension of the slasher sub-genre, turning it into a ‘shooter.’ I was fortunate enough to attend a screening with Ryuhei Kitamura in person with the cast and crew, where he discussed the impetus of the project. Talking with his co-writer, Joey O’Bryan, they tried to think of what would be scary. Jason with a machete? Not as scary these days. A spree killer with a gun? Very scary these days. We’re given very little insight into “Rifleman”, his motives, even his voice. Seeing his eerie, piercing gaze as he looks upon the stranded prey and who to strike next, making for a deeply unsettling villain. Reminding me in some ways of John Carpenter’s early classic, Assault On Precinct 13 with it’s armed and dangerous Street Thunder. Though let’s say there’s a scene that’s like Assault On Precinct 13  times 13!

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The pacing starts off fast and right into the action, slowing down at the beginning to introduce our fateful cast, the tension keeps going and amps up all the way to the end. The deaths are gory as all Hell, with distinct practical fx that make them all the more visceral and memorable. As well, the narrative is twisted enough that it’s hard to guess where things will go next… or how far. As with most slasher movies, the introduction dialogue from our fateful cast of potential victims can feel a little tired, but the characters themselves each stand on their own, such as new guy, Jeff (Anthony Kirlew) and military brat, Keren (Stephanie Pearson) among the group. Successfully avoiding the horror pitfall of unlikable characters, you don’t want to see them in the Rifleman’s cross-hairs. This is one movie that keeps you guessing, so try and go in as blind as possible.

All-In-All, DOWNRANGE is a bloody modern update to a classic sub-genre, and an adrenaline rush of a horror movie with an ending that will make your jaw drop. Watch it April 26th on the SHUDDER app/streaming!