The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Ranger

In the 1980's, slasher movies were so frequent that it felt like overkill after a while. Almost every week seemed to bring some new movie where a crazed killer targeted a group of teenagers. These days, horror fans look back on many of them with nostalgia. At the time, though, the abundance of slasher flicks was slightly aggravating. This is part of why The Ranger is so much fun. The film is an homage to those pictures. At the same time, it puts a clever spin on the formula by having the bad guy be a (relatively) normal authority figure, as opposed to a mask-wearing psycho.

The movie revolves around a group of punk rockers who hide out in the woods after committing a crime. They quickly encounter a tightly-wound park ranger (Jeremy Holm). As it happens, the Ranger knows one of the punks, Chelsea (the terrific Chloe Levine). When she was a little girl, he comforted her following the death of her uncle in those same woods. Their reunion is not a warm one, though, as she appears creeped out by him, and he seems to harbor some resentment toward her. Before long, the Ranger is terrorizing Chelsea and her friends, picking them off one by one.

Director/co-writer Jenn Wexler gives the movie psychological intelligence. Toward the end, we learn the secret the Ranger and Chelsea share, but there are other, unspoken implications that hang over everything. That creates a sense of emotional danger every bit the equal of the physical danger. Unlike the slasher pictures that inspired it, The Ranger isn't scary because we can't see the killer's face, it's scary because we can see the malice within his heart.

Obviously, the manner in which characters are killed is a key component of a movie like this. People die in very inventive ways here. Sometimes you are caught off-guard by the abruptness of a murder. Other times, the means of death is eerie enough to produce a shiver. Wexler shows great horror style, giving each person's demise a real sting.

The two lead performances tie it all together. Holm is downright creepy as the Ranger. Imagine a less comical Dwight Schrute with a homicidal streak and you'll start to get a sense of him. The actor suggests all kinds of repressed feelings, which adds to the menace. Chloe Levine, meanwhile, gives Chelsea a sense of fierceness that allows her to greatly transcend victim status. We believe that this girl is a fighter a fact that becomes very important as the story nears its finale.

The Ranger doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it absolutely uses that wheel with effectiveness and skill. This is a well-made, entertaining throwback to the horror of yesteryear.

( out of four)

The Ranger is unrated, but contains graphic violence, language, and some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 17 minutes.

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