Released Apr. 26, 2018
Unrated (equal to rated R for graphic violence and language) – 1hr 30min
Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura
Starring Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson, Rod Hernandez
An SUV full of carpooling college students experiences a blow-out while on a quiet stretch of country road. This is no ordinary flat tire, however, as the group suddenly find themselves under fire by a psychotic sniper. As the hours pass, they’re picked off one by one, and with the situation growing ever more grim, can the remaining survivors turn the tables on their tormentor before he claims them all?
Downrange is an unorthodox siege thriller, considering that it takes place entirely outdoors. All the same, the characters are trapped with nowhere to run, with only the side of the disabled vehicle and a large log to use as shelter. From Ryûhei Kitamura, director of The Midnight Meat Train and No One Lives, it can be expected that the violence is brutal and the tone is bleak throughout.
The movie wastes almost literally no time at all getting to its business, as the catalytic ‘blowout’ occurs within the opening minute. Within ten, the killer makes himself known and the rest is a tense and extremely gory affair, as the sniper uses his rifle as not just a murder weapon, but as a torture device as well. However violent you think this might be from the premise, multiply it by a factor of at least five.
Kitamura has developed enough of a track record with Western audiences to develop a certain set of expectations – everything cranked to eleven as the story goes scorched earth on its outmatched protagonists and various hapless bystanders amidst a theatrical display of gore. Downrange is every one of those things – I don’t even feel like I’m spoiling anything by sharing that not a single character goes without a gaping gunshot wound of some kind by the time the end credits roll. Love them or hate them, those are the kinds of experiences he crafts, and with his first English-language screenplay, co-written with Joey O’Bryan, the end result might actually be more relentless. There’s no denying, however, that he has style to spare, and here, he manages to turn a sparse narrative and a single setting into a visual showcase.
Yet, if Downrange has a glaring weak spot, it’s the acting. It’s hardly terrible – we’re not in SyFy Original Movie territory or anything; it’s more like ‘pilot for a CW Network series’ quality. While it doesn’t sink the proverbial boat, the premise puts a lot of responsibility for maintaining the rigorous tension on these characters and the ability of this cast of relative unknowns to sell their dread, shock, and desperation. They don’t fail, but results do vary throughout. Rod Hernandez stands out as the strongest performer, and he also plays the deepest character, so that’s a good match. Besides, if Downrange earned your attention from either the plot summary or Kitamura’s name on it, you’re not showing up for the prospect of Oscar statuettes – you’re looking for high-octane terror, and this was made specifically for you.
In all, the film has the unmistakable look and feel of a ’00s horror movie. That’s not a slam against it – quite the contrary, Downrange brought out a nostalgia that I didn’t realize I had for a not-that-distant era that has indeed passed. It recalls a specific window in modern horror history where streaming was in its infancy and the genre was dominated by unrated DVD releases of brutal offerings inspired by the New French Extremity movement, the Saw franchise, and the success of filmmakers like Takashi Miike, Eli Roth, and Rob Zombie. During that time, horror was defined primarily by a measure of psychological endurance and this film, which reaches its conclusion with its occupied stretch of lonely road smeared with a bewildering amount of blood and carnage, would have been right at home at the height of that decade. That said, it’s still hitting with plenty of impact now.
Downrange gets a rating of