In Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger (2018), some drug-dealing punks hole up in the boonies after one of them stabs a police officer, only for an overzealous and deranged park ranger (Jeremy Holm) to put their names at the top of his murder list.
The ranger shares a defining moment with pink-haired punk Chelsea (Chloe Levine) from years ago, so his systematic slaughtering of her so-called friends comes from more personal and heartfelt a place than the Voorhees of this world are able to reach. And Levine, who is fast becoming one of my new favorite people, gives us a spectacular horror performance of the nothing-left-to-lose variety. There’s also a satisfying (unrelated) axe kill that might be worth the price of admission, depending on how much you paid for your ticket.
But the script doesn’t know what to do with its monster. In one scene, he’s a statue-citing ironic catchphrase generator. In another, he’s an enhanced interrogator in what has temporarily and inexplicably turned into a torture porn movie. In another, he’s having a psychotic episode. And he’s way too chatty about his motives, his feelings, his interpretations of the subtext between the characters, and everything else that the movie doesn’t feel like showing or doesn’t trust the audience to figure out.
And I’m not sure how punk it is. Sure, there’s punk music on the soundtrack, and the character-victims all look the part. Their individual personalities, to the degree that they have any, are also suitably insufferable. But they seem to be no strangers to affluence. I don’t mean cash, which they can get from selling drugs. I mean affluence and the privilege that comes with it. Because these punks are ready for the mall. They own a van with a full tank of gas. They’re clean, well fed, polite when it serves them, and willing to submit to authority in a crisis. They have parents to call when they need to post bail, and they assume that their parents can afford it and would do it. They’re delighted when their crime gets mainstream coverage. And they’re starting a band. They’re drug dealers who knife police officers, and they think they can start a band.
This doesn’t make them punks. It makes them tourists.