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FrightFest 2018 Review: The Ranger

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THE-RANGEr-finalIn The Ranger, Jenn Wexler – the producer of films like Darling and Most Beautiful Island – makes an explosive feature directorial debut. Following in the footsteps of Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room and pinching plenty from ‘80s exploitation, The Ranger follows a group of young punks on the run from the police as they resort to hiding in a long-abandoned cabin in the woods (yes!).

The Ranger is not an example of flawless film-making and not everything works here. However, it’s a ton of fun, features some incredible moments of dialogue and has an ending to –  literally – die for. It’s a blast, if not something entirely standout.

The main problem with this punks vs maniac park ranger effort is the characters. Unlike the aforementioned Green Room, the punk kids are an annoying bunch. Their characterisation feels exaggerated into the stratosphere rather than credible, so you’re not going to want these kids to live. #TeamParkRanger. Of course, they’re supposed to ooze anarchy and embody an attitude that says “f- the police!”, “screw you society!” and “rules are for fools” (?), but, that sure doesn’t make it easy to spend time with them. Like the slashers of yesteryear, the fun is in watching them die and feeling very little empathy.

Leading lady Chloe Levine’s (The Transfiguration) Chelsea is described as the “tourist” of the bunch. She’s quietly coming to turns with returning to the cabin, a place she used to frequent in the summer with her uncle. She tells her punk rocker friends that he was mauled by a wolf and later found ripped to shreds. Punks being punks, that doesn’t scare them. They howl and scream, inviting the idea of terror to come knocking. Alas, it does.

Terror comes knocking in the form of The Ranger, a maniac protector of nature who will do anything to preserve the sanctity of his national park. Played masterfully by Jeremy Holm, he is 6ft of pure, subtle menace. His character is the perfect blend of Jason Voorhees and Anton Chigurgh; a killer with a thirst for blood and absolutely no remorse. He has some great one-liners, obsessively reciting the rules from the Park Ranger handbook. Who knew such a thing existed?

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A standout moment comes when Mr Park Ranger challenges one of the kids to rip a bear trap off of his own foot in 10 seconds. It’s one of the film’s grisliest moments, before its bloodbath of a finale. It may not pack too much of a punch during its 77-minutes, but The Ranger is still an entertaining ’80s-throwback slasher and went it gets going, it really gets going.

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Reviews

Review: SEQUENCE BREAK

Sequence Break

Sequence Break Review – 3.5 stars

Graham Skipper‘s Sequence Break is difficult to describe with its strange, bizarre and complex story that blurs the line between reality and fantasy as a technician named Oz (Chase Williamson) is tormented by indecipherable visions. What is clear is that the oddities are linked to a mysterious arcade game and the arrival of two strangers; one, a beautiful young woman called Tess (Fabianne Therese) and the other, an emotionally unstable person known only as The Man (John Dinan). Both are attracted to the game, but only one understands the true extent of its power. What begins to unfold is a race against time as Oz’s involvement with the game threatens to break down his entire sense of being and the world around him.

Tess’ appearance immediately arouses suspicion and her eventual enticement to the game furthers the ease it is to be wary of her. Sequence Break’s lack of definition helps its ability to remain consistently unpredictable, as the events that occur are nightmarish moments, rather than chronological events to be made sense of. It’s easier to sit back and enjoy the film’s refusal to be understood, immersing yourself in the film’s perfectly retro soundtrack that could have been ripped straight out of an arcade, and colourful visuals that nod back to the striking lighting used in ’80s cinema and, most noticeably, TRON.

To describe Sequence Break as surreal would be an understatement. The film’s combination of sci-fi, horror and romantic elements is just the beginning of its complicated identity that remains impossible to define. With nostalgic leanings to the days where arcade shops were all the rage, it’s impossible to ignore Sequence Break‘s appreciation for the old-school. The story’s focus on a technician who restores abandoned and broken arcade games is appropriate for today’s world where young gamers are obsessed with the latest Call of Duty, but may never have touched a coin-operated arcade machine. As much as it is a journey into the absurd and a showcase of impressively icky special effects, Sequence Break is a love letter to those that reminisce about days spent playing Space Invaders and Pac-Man.

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Oz becomes enticed by an ominously painted pitch-black video game that works as a sort of sexual awakening for his character; the game controls literally melts between his fingers, moulding into gooey, sticky openings that allow him to insert himself fully and physically into the cyber-space of the game itself. It is no accident that Oz’s infatuation with the game begins as he starts a relationship with Tess, paving the way for two different, but equally as psychological sexual journeys. He becomes lost in the world of the video game, becoming increasingly eager to discover what it’s all about and, at the same time, is visited by a troubled man who tells Oz he has a specific purpose. The film’s oddly sexual imagery and vague narrative direction crafts a film that is beautifully bizarre on the inside and outside.

The film borrows from David Cronenbergian horror to push the boundaries of the expected, opening the doors to a world that dominated by the indescribable. Skipper’s vision of the game becoming an almost physical entity has been snatched from Videodrome and its innovative vision of the media itself becoming a place to fear. Sequence Break works an impressive and loving respect to an era that is long gone, but inserts its homage with necessary modern twists to prevent it from being just another film that loves the ’80s.

The end becomes a complicated and, admittedly, convoluted and confusing climax, that further bends the film’s nonsensical narrative. It’s difficult to explain and almost impossible to define, but Sequence Break‘s confident foray into a dark video game world is enticing for all its differences, but also for its clear inspirations.

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