The Ranger is yet another cabin-in-the-woods slasher, this time with an ’80s theme. Chelsea (Chloe Levine) and her group of punk friends are on the run after attacking a cop attempting to bring them in for drug use. They take refuge at Chelsea’s deceased uncle’s cabin in a local national park, but the local ranger (Jeremy Holm) is not pleased and enforces park rules with an iron fist and other assorted weapons.
This film has a distinctly retro feel, and not just in the period detail. The younger cast members’ performances are highly energetic and somewhat campy, reminiscent of the ridiculous “creeps” from Death Wish 3. This is a fun decision on director Jenn Wexler‘s part, but it’s not a fun experience to sit through. The frantic drama-school punk posturing is grating instantly, and becomes more and more grating with every single frame.
Perhaps this was intended to make the audience yearn for the gang’s deaths – and boy, it really does – but there are serious tonal conflicts throughout the film that undermine its comic potential. The violence is infrequent but quite extreme and gives the film something more of an unpleasant edge than its humour can really moderate. Levine’s performance and her character’s story are highly convincing, but they’re at odds with by far the most enjoyable character in the film: Holm’s gleefully psychopathic ranger.
This film feels like a concerted attempt to be a cult movie from the outset and that, sadly, is not how cult movies work. Its shrieking, capering punk cast are like nails on a chalkboard and make the short 77-minute running time a blessing.