Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura
Written by Ryûhei Kitamura & Joey O’Bryan
Starring Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson, Rod Hernandez, Anthony Kirlew, Alexa Yeames, Jason Tobias, Eric Matuschek, Ikumi Yoshimatsu, Hana Burson, Chris Powell, Graham Skipper, Nick Burson, Emory Lawrence, & Aion Boyd as the Rifleman
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DOWNRANGE surprised me. Hearing about the premise of the film before heading into it, I prepped myself for an OPEN WATER/FROZEN style scenario where a group of people are trapped in a single location and forced to make desperate decisions in order to survive. And that’s pretty much what I got in the first hour of DOWNRANGE. But as that last half hour kicked in, the film really reved up and ended up being one hell of a ballsy and fun little ride into oblivion.
A group of kids in a van break down on the side of the road. Turns out, the popped tire isn’t an accident. It’s the explosive result of rifle fire from a camouflaged gunman perched in a tree a great distance down the road. But the kids don’t find that out until two of their number have fallen to the sniper’s shots. Now four of the kids have hunkered down, using the van as a shield in order to survive. As the sun blazes above them and the sniper seems to have endless patience, the kids attempt to escape in one way after another.
So, pretty simple scenario. Grab a bunch of young actors and tell them to act petrified for an hour. And for the most part, this film delivers that. The young actors playing the trapped prey of the riflemen do a decent job of shivering and quivering, though I do think that if there is a chink in the armor of this film, despite the well-worn “trapped in one spot” scenario, is that some of the acting isn’t really that great. It might be simply a result of a script that needed one more polish, but the lines and the deliveries of the trapped kids felt repetitious and uninspired. No dialog is better than redundancy sometimes. Still, I think this film can serve as a statement that some people just can’t stay still for one second. I don’t want to lump an entire generation into one glommy glob, but the film really does show how millennials don’t have the attention span enough to sit and wait when a crisis arises. Our Twitter culture requires instant responses and these kids breeze through one futile escape plan after another at a rapid clip. I understand the need for something happening all the way through, but I felt the urge to throttle them all and tell the kids to slow down and breathe for half a fucking second.
But right when my old man tendencies started to kick into overload, the film really does amp up and deliver some action, gore, suspense, and surprises that elevated the movie to an entirely more interesting level. Forced out from behind the car through a series of events, the film becomes a symphony of violence, blood, and bullets where no one is safe and expectations are tossed out like an empty clip.
So while it takes its sweet time to get to the stuff you haven’t seen before, DOWNRANGE saves it’s dessert for the end where it should be. Even though the kids in this film lack patience, director Ryûhei Kitamura (who also delivered the subversive THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) has a little. This film almost lost me. The acting is spotty and the setup is somewhat mundane. But sit with this one a while and I think, by the end of it all, DOWNRANGE is going to leave those with an appetite for violence, gore, and destruction with an ear to ear smile.