“Just do it…”
Ryûhei Kitamura’s Downrange wastes no time at all in establishing its story. Within seconds of opening, the SUV that serves as the focal point for most of the 84 minute running time blows its tire, stranding six twenty-somethings on the side of the road. Unbeknownst to the twentysomethings, the tire was actually shot out by a sniper and they are all now playing mouse to a heavily armed cat in a tree. Left with only the SUV as protection, these stranded motorists must make a choice: hide or run.
Those hoping for more from their grindhouse offerings should turn back now because Downrange is minimalistic to the utmost degree, and like most film school projects, you get what you pay for. The Toronto International Film Festival acts as host for a Midnight Madness feature every year, and Downrange is one of the exhibits playing along with Brawl in Cell Block 99, Bodied, Revenge, and The Disaster Artist. Sometimes an under the radar genre picture leaps out to catch audiences by surprise (like The Babadook) and goes on to acclaim despite its low budget. Unlike those aforementioned films, Downrange is dramatically and technically inert. Kitamura, who directed The Midnight Meat Train, has experience with one-location-shoots, but his latest film severely tests the patience of those watching. Hiding behind a lone source of shelter makes sense (as it did for the protagonists in Doug Liman’s The Wall, yet that earlier 2017 film had the benefit of some star power. The cast of Downrange less resemble characters than chattel in their constant grunts and whining. Only Keren (Stephanie Pearson) gets the privilege of stating that she’s an “army brat.” The rest just die quietly.
This picture isn’t gloriously bad like The Room, it’s more of an exercise in sadism, that asks the audience just how much sitting around they are willing to watch in exchange for gore. Given that the audience for this is movie seekers cruising late night showings for grisly horror, Downrange more than delivers on that front. Even going as far as depicting yellow jackets having at the insides of what used to be someone’s skull. The primary concern of this film is watching a nondescript group of friends get shot but not to have enough backstory or agency to care why. Such celebrations of carnage are not uncommon, but there should be some artistry on display, otherwise the entire activity borders on sadism. To his credit, Kitamura does try to liven things up with camera trickery in spots, though it doesn’t really offer any new perspective to watch the faceless killer snack on beef jerky in a macro lens close-up. B-movies like this need a hook, a bogeyman to inspire nightmares. Downrange can’t even provide that. Just more ugliness.
By the time Downrange mercifully draws near the end, the nameless and motive-less killer finally drops down from his tree, but it’s hard to care why. This rogue sniper is posited as a Michael Myers who relies on elemental fear, but this ghillie-suited antagonist has no presence even if he is onscreen. One congratulates Kitamura and co-writer Joey O’Bryan (Fulltime Killer) for so successfully recreating D-grade horror pap for the midnight audience, yet if one deliberately makes a terrible film–even for jeers–it’s still terrible. Worse yet, Downrange is the sort of humorless, dour horror that won’t even draw laughs. Blood and gore can’t replace excitement. Without any sense of enthusiasm to the final project, one wishes that the filmmakers had gone for a more ambitious idea, even if it meant failure.