SXSW Midnighters Go Into the Woods With The Ranger
Jenn Wexler pits punks against nature
We're all familiar with the unbreakable rules that apply to characters in horror movies, just like every good horror geek knows that a legitimately top-notch shocker must subvert those a priori assumptions. Still, rules are rules:
Resist the urge to take shelter in an isolated cabin far from functional roads and lacking easy egress.
Never trust authority figures, be they cops, parents, motel managers, or really just anyone who tells a character to "just cool down and let's figure things out."
The axiomatic cell phone conundrum: the more desperately a character requires those precious five bars, the less likely they will be able to get any reception whatsoever unless (of course) the call is coming from the basement.
"Actually that was one of the best things that could have happened to us," laughed Jenn Wexler, director of The Ranger. "When we got up to the woods, in the middle of nowhere [in the Woodstock area of the Hudson Valley], none of the cell phones worked. Usually, as a producer I'd be like, 'What the fuck? Now we have to figure this out.' But from a directorial perspective, it was just the opposite. 'Yeah! Nobody can be looking at their phone, everyone has to just be in the moment.' It was awesome."
You can count the number of classic-to-crappy genre films that deploy the by-now-ossified foreboding forest location cliche on the fingers and toes of all of Jason's victims and still have plenty of mediocre maniac movies left over. Not so with The Ranger, which pits a quintet of on-the-lam punk rockers against Jeremy Holm's ecologically overenthusiastic Forest Ranger. A prologue sets up a mysterious bond between bubblegum-pinked punk Chelsea (a fantastic Chloe Levine) and the Man in the Campaign Hat, but the script, co-written by Wexler and Giaco Furino, drops emotionally charged red herrings like bear scat in, uh, the woods. Produced under the aegis of Larry Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix, Wexler's directorial debut keeps even jaded horror fans guessing at what the hell's going to happen next.
Much of The Ranger's adrenal-jarring effectiveness comes not from the gore (of which there is plenty) but from the unknowable other member of the cast, the forest itself. Director of photography James Siewert – another Glass Eye alum – initially shoots the timberland as both a sun-dappled and presumably safe haven for the runaway punks before dialing down the daylight and creeping into a nightfall painted in the hues of paranoiac despair. Without spoiling anything, it's safe to say that The Ranger's tree-tagging punk rockers have a perfectly sane reason to run into the woods with little but flashlights, despite the recurring motif of potential lupine evisceration and that stern-looking representative of the Department of the Interior.
"I've always loved 'kids in the woods' movies," Wexler explained, "and so when it came time for me to direct my own movie, I really wanted to explore that."
Does she have a top three "kids in the woods" films? "Whoa, let me think for a second. I'm definitely a fan of Evil Dead, the Friday the 13th movies, and then for sure Cabin in the Woods, which takes the whole idea and turns it on its head. I'm into meta-type movies like that. When my co-writer and I started working on the script we kind of wanted to go with that Cabin in the Woods-style movie, but then I really wanted to infiltrate it with tons of pink and Lisa Frank colors. I knew I'd never seen a cabin-in-the-woods kind of movie with that kind of look and style to it, but that was something that I thought we could really explore, you know?"
MIDNIGHTERSMonday, March 12, 11:55pm, Alamo Ritz
Tuesday, March 13, 11:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
Thursday, March 15, 11:15am, Alamo South Lamar