You’d be hard-pressed to find a film that jumps into its story faster than Ryûhei Kitamura‘s latest, Downrange. It opens with an SUV driving a remote road, and within seconds a tire blows and the vehicle swerves to a stop in the dust. Six young people — a mix of best friends and vague acquaintances — exit, banter, offer up some minor backstory, and begin changing the tire.
And then one of them has his head caved in by a high-velocity bullet.
And another has her eye shot out.
An unseen sniper pins the remaining four — Keren (Stephanie Pearson), Jodi (Kelly Connaire), Todd (Rod Hernandez), and Eric (Anthony Kirlew) — behind the SUV and forces them into a life and death struggle across the next several hours. Shoddy cell reception, a lack of other cars, and the uncertainty of where the shooter is hiding leaves the four scared, panicked, and desperate. Good luck you guys!
That summation is the entirety of the story here, but the simplicity works in favor of the increasing tension and moments of real suspense as we’re left with nothing more than a killer targeting human fish in a barrel. Films like this often stumble with unlikable characters who viewers are happy to see die, but that’s never the case here. There are some annoying bits, but they’re in heated moments of panic where a person’s reaction to the violence around them is unfair to judge.
That said, three of the four leave you feeling indifferent to their fates with a lot of that reaction (or lack of reaction) being due to some heavy over-acting. A few of them *ACT* with their whole bodies, and its forcefulness is at times distracting. Only Keren stands out, both in character and in Pearson’s intense performance, as she’s smart, capable, and the one you want see fighting to the end. Keren was an “army brat” and knows guns, tactics, and emergency aid, and she’s the voice of reason amid the chaos. The film stays generally smart in regard to the characters’ actions, their cell phone efforts, and their overall strategies, and Keren sits at the head of most of it.
And that chaos is bloody, violent, and heavy on the carnage. Bodies are abused in visceral, pulpy ways with Kitamura’s camera taking it all in like Takeru Kobayashi at a hot dog factory — we even move through a recently eviscerated meat puppet at one point. When it comes, the violence is wet, messy, and audibly disturbing, and that sensory overload carries over to the emotional toll too. The point comes where the slaughter intensifies to such a degree with all manner of horrible things happening to human bodies at such a rate that it’s difficult to care beyond the bloody entertainment of it all.
While the visuals and action hold your attention there are issues for viewers who pay too close attention. The geography of the shooter in relation to the SUV and survivors is sketchy at best. The angles just don’t add up. Equally confusing are several of the rifle shots that seem to pass through car walls to hit the interior of the other side or through closed windows that only shatter many rounds later. It’s unfortunate as Kitamura ensures the non-action geography lines up well and maintains a tight control over our awareness of where everyone is at a given time.
The film works best as a simple, bloody assault movie, and on those terms it’s a success. The smaller elements hold it back from greatness though as rough acting, disengaged characters, and an overly silly ending lessen the impact of the whole.
Downrange is nihilistic as all hell and at times feels like a spiritual pairing with Kitamura’s No One Lives, but it works in the confines of its one note tale for fans of fleshy carnage.
Downrange premieres on Shudder on April 26th, 2018.
Related Topics: Film Festivals, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)