Starring: Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson, Rod Hernandez
If there's anything slasher movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) taught us through the years is that nothing good will come from a car full of teenagers getting stuck in the middle of a road.
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura of the Midnight Meat Train (2008) fame, Downrange tells the unfortunate story of a group of youths getting stranded on a country road when one of their car tires blew out. It isn't very long before one of them finds out that the tire was shot, gruesomely leading to a shootout murdering two of them and leaving four survivors to engage in a battle of wits against a ghillie-suited sniper settled within the trees just a few miles away.
Albeit the plot sounds less like your classic teen slasher hack-a-thon, Downrange utilizes the same gory violence, methodic one-by-one slaughtering and even disguised killers your typical bodycounters are known for. The only jig here is that the story is in route for a more stationary survivalist tone which meant we don't get a lot of running or chasing, and instead of your usual hands-on stalking murderer, we have a sniper armed with high caliber bullets, a long-ranged rifle and enough water and beef jerky supply to last for an entire day of random people hunting. It isn't getting any more simple than that, but Kitamura brought enough style and flair to keep things interesting and, more importantly for a horror movie, brutal.
Much of the casts have little to no prior works to speak of so their sense of panic and stress is easy to picture, in a sense we're simply watching random people facing certain death at its most cathartic. The intensity of their situation is doubled by the fact that the film's direction and pacing give them enough time to think and find ways to escape their predicament and executing them, only for us to watch on horror as the sniper finds their own way around the teens' plans to put them back in square one. These attacks are nothing tame, with each shot fountains blood as hard caliber explodes through bodies and quite brightly against the movie's sunlit tint, vehicles crash and accidentally flatten bodies, and a fair amount of camera work focuses on the detailed latex effects and small set-pieces such as flies buzzing around sun-cooked corpses for that realistic grue.
The movie even stepped further into repulsive territory when the sniper attacks a family of three driving to the mess they made, brutally dispatching each member in a hail of bullets (this including a pre-teen girl) after they survive a wreck, but Downrange smartly included a few quieter, calmer scenes to balance out the splatter with emotional human turmoil in which our characters either lament for their fallen friends or silently succumb to their wounds. It isn't long after that the movie eventually goes action thriller on us with the survivors getting some shred of an upper hand on the sniper and the cops finally arriving (at night, mind you, when you can absolutely see a sniper hidden in the trees...) to put an end to the attacks, only to be gorily bested and more or less going back into the slasher flick tropes as a final girl gets even with our ghillie suit killer. The resulting end is nothing short of shocking, but surprisingly fitting with the tonal hopelessness played within the movie.
A minimalist horror at its best, Downrange evokes the horrors of shock, stress and duress in a senseless shooting scenario through a smartly handled combination of fledgling actors, lurid effects, and a curveball take on slasher themes and tropes, done under a production that looks rich, crisp and clear despite its considerable small budget. It's a movie that rewards its viewers for their patience and if you're the kind of good horror folk who loves their splatter film with a side of shocking maliciousness and stylized simplicity, then I can guarantee that the reward is worth the wait.
1 male shot through the head with a rifle
1 female shot on the eye with a rifle, shot to death
1 male bled to death from rifle wounds
1 male shot with a rifle
1 female shot to death with a rifle
1 male caught on fire from a car explosion
1 girl shot on the head with a rifle
1 male shot through the head with a rifle
1 male shot on the head with a rifle
1 female shot on the head with a rifle
1 male shot to death with a rifle
1 male shot on the chest with a rifle
1 male repeatedly shot and bludgeoned to death with a rifle
1 female shot on the neck with a rifle