If you cut The Ranger, the demented directorial debut from genre cinema mainstay Jenn Wexler, the thing would bleed neon. A slasher picture that takes equal inspiration from the likes of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and the slightly higher brow, mohawked punk cinema of Derek Jarman, it’s not so much a movie as it is a sustained and ragged howl of outrage. Pivoting as it does on a viscera-soaked clash between a pack of leather-clad brats, led by the resourceful Chelsea (Chloe Levine), and the titular psychotic park ranger (Jeremy Holm), Wexler always envisaged it as a film of conflicting extremes.
“I loved the idea of the world of the punks and the world of The Ranger colliding, both visually and musically, so I kept that in mind through every stage of the process,” Wexler explains. “I knew we needed to start the film in the world of the punk club, with all these insane colors, and then bring those colors into the woods along with the punks. You can see the conflict right there just in the colors: the punks’ neons and leather clashing with Ranger’s rustic, Smokey the Bear parkland vibes.”
Watch the trailer for The Ranger here:
Indeed, though Levine is stellar as the iron-willed Chelsea, it’s Jeremy Holm’s Ranger that really steals the picture. An inversion of the very picture of American manliness, he’s absolutely terrifying; the natural extension of conservative thought poured into a suit and topped off with a broad-rimmed hat. “Jeremy was a friend of [co-writer Giaco Furino] and we had him in mind as we were writing the project,” Wexler says. “I was just a fan, having watched him in Mr. Robot and House Of Cards. When the script was done we showed it to him and we were very excited to find out that he loved it. We had a meeting and we all clicked immediately. He was the first person we cast.”
Given how perfectly realised The Ranger is as a horror antagonist, it’s rather unsurprising to learn he was developed directly out of Wexler’s own fears and nightmares. “We wanted to make a film about a figure of authority who is trying to stomp out individuality; lifestyles that don’t conform to what he deems worthy. Personality types that say you have to fit into some cookie-cutter mold or else you’re living your life wrong have always been terrifying to me, so that definitely informed a lot of the character.”
Not, mind you, that The Ranger is some T-1000 type; an unfeeling, unthinking machine. Wexler goes out of her way to delineate his motivations, however shaky and irrational they might be, and he has an arc all of his own. “We wanted him to have relatable characteristics, too. Deep down he craves a human connection. It was really fascinating to explore his layers in the writing process with Giaco and in shooting with Jeremy.”
We wanted to make a film about a figure of authority who is trying to stomp out individuality.
That’s not to ignore the film’s other star, a grotty and banged-up van owned by the film’s central band of punks that Wexler has had her own notable offscreen relationship with. “When principal photography was over, I wanted to hold onto [it],” Wexler says. “I live in New York City where parking is absolutely impossible and renting a spot is very expensive, but my aunt who lives over the river in New Jersey, in a nice little suburban community where there’s plenty of parking, said that I could keep the van in front of her house.
“Although we were totally in the right to park there, within a week the state of New Jersey impounded it because of neighbor complaints of it being unsightly. The van’s in my mom’s name, so we took a mother-daughter trip to court to get it back. Now it is hidden in the back of a parking lot; I’m not ready to give it up yet!”