Down Range, the new film from Ryuhei Kitamure (The Midnight Meat Train), wastes no time getting down to business in its opening minutes. A group of 20-somethings are traveling on a lonely stretch of highway surrounded by wilderness. Shortly after their tire blows out, one of the young people discovers a bullet in the rubber remains and realizes the disabling of their vehicle was anything but an accident. Somewhere in the forest, a sniper waits to pick them off one-by-one.
Sounds promising? Yes. Does the film pay-off that promise? Not entirely. Down Range remains in neutral, occasionally revving its engine, but going nowhere for the next thirty minutes. The characters hide behind their vehicle while they try to locate their mystery sniper … and that’s about it. Finally, the action kicks back into gear and gives way to gory horror mayhem. However, after the tedious first act of the film, some audience members won’t care when the narrative jump starts back to life.
The characters are generic and reduced to being labels. When one of the female characters conveniently begins to explain the basics of sniping and marksmanship, she looks at her friends and says, “Army Brat”. And that’s where the development of her character begins and ends. The others could be called “First Dead Guy”, “Sensitive Emo Guy”, “Hysterical Girl”, and unfortunately “Obligatory Black Guy”. As with less accomplished horror films, the characters will ultimately be defined by what order they die in. (Wouldn’t it be fun, just once, for the minority character to be the “final girl or guy”?)
Down Range could best be described as a horror film for the easily-distracted, multi-tasking Netflix audience. Pay attention to the opening scenes for the premise. Do laundry while the film makes an attempt at character development. Then tune back in for the final thirty minutes. I’ll give you a prompt: When another car appears on the road, the film kicks into gear and never looks back. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to its third act.
If you are a horror novice, there’s a vast array of superior lesser-known films out there from which you should choose (Dog Soldiers, Session 9, The Descent, The Orphanage). If you’re a horror veteran and just can’t shake your hankering for a new slasher film, you could do worse than Down Range. But, when you finish the film, you’ll find yourself thinking about all the ways it could be better than it is.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.