Cinepocalypse 2017: Downrange (2017 - dir. Ryuhei Kitamura)
A rather insipid throwback to high concept 90's VHS schlock, DOWNRANGE falls under the category of “trying too hard to pay homage” without doing anything outside of the ordinary. Several friends on a road trip get a flat tire and things quickly escalate from there in a manner that aspires for the same kind of tension that films like TARGETS and BREAKDOWN can execute (no pun intended). What makes this movie sporadically scary is the fact that this situation could possibly happen to anyone and recently has not too far away in the state of Michigan. As an exercise in minimalism, DOWNRANGE only works in spurts rather than slowly ratcheting up tension. The main problem lies in the fact that these are not characters we grow to care about therefore our investment is minimal as well. In fact, word around the TIFF campfire is that certain audience members were actually cheering on the kills, which is not a good sign or anything resembling an intended audience reaction. Yes, most of us as the sympathetic audience do not want them to suffer as they must stay alive while someone faceless is attempting to pick them off one at a time from a distance.
Unlike THE WALL from earlier this year, there is no identification or communication with the killer. The one upside here is that the director provides no backstory for the villain which is one of its few strengths on display.Said sniper lacks an identity for the majority of the film and our heroes simply have to survive his attacks in the scorching sun without the assistance of cover or shade. But it all comes down to the overall effectiveness, which isn’t as strong as one would hope. Kitamura may not have been the ideal choice to take on this material given his track record with MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. The filmmaking itself is stylish to a fault and tries to provide memorable shots rather than allowing for subtlety and stillness. DOWNRANGE is mostly a one-night one-locale thriller that only has moments of pure dismay and shocking gore when it could’ve been far more relentless and intense in a more assured director’s hands. There’s nothing wrong with a JOYRIDE approach to suspense and horror, but at least that homage to one of my favorite genres had people to root for and a sense of unpredictability integrated wthht dark humor. Here, it’s mostly a display of downer notes and flashy style which do nothing to add to the proceedings overall.