Written by J. Weagle
Downrange, the newest horror film from director Ryuhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train) and released through the streaming service Shudder is a mixed bag of high highs and low lows. It’s easy to compare this film to others in its genre such as the acclaimed Wolf Creek, and on the surface those comparisons are rational, however it becomes clear rather quickly that Downrange has a vision all its own, even if it doesn’t always reach it.
The plot is simple and on paper has been done a thousand times before, a group of college students traveling cross country find themselves with a flat tire stranded along side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Upon noticing that the flat tire wasn’t an accident and had been shot, things quickly go to the gore with plenty of head shots. The ever dwindling group of survivors must stay hidden behind their broken down vehicle, as somewhere off in the distance a crazed murderer wielding a sniper rifle and draped in a ghillie suit intends to pick them off one by one. Again, sounds repetitive and done before, and that’s because it has been in one form or another, however what separates Downrange from the others is it’s reliance on the one location (the car) and the overall humor to its violence.
While the plot is simple, the supreme amount of gore, daylight setting and solid tension elevate it past being just the same old. The real weak link however is in the downright dreadful acting from the entire mostly unknown cast. There are moments here where the acting completely took me out of the suspense and left me laughing at just how rigid the dialog is (though to be fair I don’t think the actors had much to work with) so putting all the blame on them might not be earned. It is a shame however since having at least one strong lead to carry the movie could have pushed it into being a must watch horror film, but instead I could understand anyone overlooking it.
Kitamura adds quite a bit of flare to a film that has a location as small as this and it is actually amazing just how much he gets out of it. Certain shots felt a bit amateurish and flashy for flashy sake, without having any real meaning behind them other then to attempt to get the most out of such a simple (on paper) film. What is done rather well are the moments of dark humor sprinkled throughout, which at first caught me off guard but I think does a good job at breaking up the tension as the film speeds by. Another great aspect is the effects which are at times brutal, showing bullet holes through eye sockets and viscous views of kneecaps getting torn to shreds.
Downrange surprised me, from the opening moments, after seeing just how bad the acting was I thought for sure I was in for another outback killer dud. What I got however was a pretty decent minimalist horror film that featured gritty violence mixed with at times hilarious moments that are as sadistic and dark. It does quite a bit with the little it has, and deserves lots of credit for that alone, rivaling or in some cases surpassing the intensity found in much bigger films. While certainly not a movie to go out of your way to view, I do recommend it to those looking for something different from the usual haunted house, demon possessing that seems to be all the rage these days.