Runtime: 1 hour 29 minutes
Director: Ryûhei Kitamura
Starring: Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson, Rod Hernandez, Anthony Kirlew, and Alexa Yeames
Browsing Shudder the other week, I decided to take a gamble on one of their proclaimed “exclusive” features called Downrange. A cool blind of isolation and slasher horror, Downrange follows a troop of friends, presumably college students, as they befall a flat tire in the middle of a desolate stretch of road before quickly discovering their car trouble is no random happening. A homicidal sniper has taken up his nest with the intent to kill anyone unlucky enough to enter his kill zone, which they have just done. With death coming at any moment, the heroes must struggle to escape their inescapable predicament. You can probably surmise from the conventional set-up that Downrange is going to ultimately be your standard killer-kills-young-adults-in-mostly-brutal-fashion flick and that’s exactly what it is, but not without a few twists up it’s sleeve. Although, the impact of those subversions may be an overstatement in light of the film’s more unfavorable elements.
Firstly on what works really well; the premise, or the situation, the film stages is legitimately scary in precisely on how pragmatic its execution is, especially with random gun violence becoming an accepted norm in America. Some may even recall the 1966 University of Texas tower shooting where a former marine took up a vantage point with long-range weapons to shoot and kill 16 people. On that detail, I have to give props to director Ryûhei Kitamura for running with it; it’s quite effective. Another thing that surprised me was the gore. The gore effects are very well done and are really what sell the film’s explicit slasher-ness if you will. Those not familiar with extreme gore like convincing head cave-ins and gaping body wounds, this one could sneak up on you. I’ve never been a huge fan of slashers: watching cruelty for cruelty’s sake isn’t intrinsically fun, and while I agree there’s something morbidly exhilarating or curious about going to that dark place with content – “disturbing” film enthusiasts know what I mean – there’s a time and a place for everything. With Downrange though, the bouts ultra violence don’t so much go down easier, but are subtextually justified by genre intent.
The film tries to toss in a couple twists on the conventional slasher, like swapping out the knife/stabbing kill weapon for a firearm or subverting the final-girl-who-grew-up-a-survivalist-saves-the-day cliche. I suppose the ending is also supposed to be a surprise turn of events, but the full potential of that creative effort is undercut by the needlessly elongated pacing and unconvincing character acting. This is definitely one of those horror films where you want the main characters to die because they’re so annoying to watch. I mean, for what the film is, the casting is fine enough, but it’s apparent the actors needed more direction from Kitamura than what they got.
Downrange isn’t the smoothest survival slasher, but it hits the mark with it’s terrifyingly relevant premise and impressively gory kills anchored by its single location narrative. As horror goes, you could do a lot worse.
Horror Scale: 7.4/10