Downrange Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
US Premiere on Shudder
Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura
Written by Ryûhei Kitamura and Joey O’Bryan
2017, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Premiered on Shudder on April 26th, 2017
Kelly Connaire as Jodi
Stephanie Pearson as Keren
Rod Hernandez as Todd
Anthony Kirlew as Eric
By now, the kids-stuck-in-a-stupid-place subgenre is a horror movie institution. Whether it’s ski lifts, shark cages or saunas, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that if there’s a place and you can get stuck there, some dumb kids in a horror movie probably have been. It’s not always their fault though, and in the case of Downrange, it’s hard to assign blame. Trapped on a lonely country road by a madman hiding in a tree with a sniper rifle, a small group of friends find themselves being picked off, one by one, with painstaking precision. Even worse, like a cat toying with his prey, the sinister Rifleman is taking his time about it, waiting for the juiciest shots. Eyeballs will pop.
Unlike most films of its type, however, Downrange doesn’t skimp on the gore or brutality. It’s like Phone Booth crossed with 127 Hours… if 127 Hours had made its central act of dismemberment last for the whole movie. In other words, it’s a Ryûhei Kitamura movie. This isn’t as high-concept or flat-out weird as The Midnight Meat Train or Versus, but Kitamura’s sense of energy is unmistakeable, the violence typically cruel. Heads and various body parts are eviscerated in detail – not so much exploding as being punctured with surgical accuracy – before decomposing at the side of the road in even more detail. Barely glimpsed and silent for the duration, the Rifleman is essentially Michael Myers with a sniper rifle.
Still, we are stuck at the side of the road, and the Rifleman really isn’t going to move, and so Kitamura and writer Joey O’ Bryan go to increasingly ridiculous lengths to keep the blood pumping and the action flowing. There’s only so long you can stay hidden behind a car, and only so long a director can make that interesting for. By the end, it’s almost a parody of itself, with a level of splatter Victor Crowley might be proud of. In spite of Kitamura’s best efforts, the relentless cruelty and carnage does begin to wear thin, shades of tedium multiplying in his repetitive misery. One can only watch a guy shooting fish in a barrel for so long.
The feeling isn’t helped much by the cast, whose relentless shrieking gets grating real fast. The fish and barrel comparison doesn’t end there either – there’s a lot of O-Face mouthbreathing going on here. With a target that wide, it’s a wonder the film’s nominal lead doesn’t take a bullet to the teeth within the first ten minutes. Sadly, Kitamura’s talents don’t extend so much to keeping his actors in check, and their racket does get grating as they fiddle about with their mobile phones – is Downrange the first horror film to use a selfie stick as a victim’s tool for survival? – cry, and make bad plans.
Downrange is a deeply unpleasant movie from all quarters, but where it is intentional, it’s a resounding success. In spite of the limited setting, it moves along at a healthy clip, with unpredictable action beats, amusingly dumb set-pieces and stunningly effective violence. Rifle Nut vs Teenagers isn’t the movie we need right now (read the room, guy), but it’s a slick, sick bit of genre cinema that cares not a jot about who it offends. It’s not so much a bullseye as it is a smoking great crater of a horror movie.
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