Ryûhei Kitamura has made a name for himself with his grim and bloody films such as VERSUS, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN and NO ONE LIVES. With DOWNRANGE he distills plot to a bare minimum and pumps the gore up to eleven. Like a slasher film, except with a sniper rifle instead of a machete.
Todd (Rod Hernandez) and Sara (Alexa Yeames) and several fellow students who’ve kicked in gas money find themselves stranded on a deserted stretch of road after a tire blows out. However it wasn’t a random blowout but a well placed bullet that’s to blame for their situation. Two deaths later they’re pinned down and at the mercy of an unseen and sadistic sniper. Trapped and facing certain death they need to find a way to escape, but how when you can’t even see the threat you have to face.
Of course this is hardly an original plot, having been used in many films spanning many genres, most notably westerns and war movies, Kitamura brings it into the horror genre with both the randomness and brutality of the killer’s actions. The closest to a horror take on this I’ve seen previously was Joel Schumacher’s PHONE BOOTH and that had a script by horror icon Larry Cohen. DOWNRANGE oddly has a script by Hong Kong action specialist Joey O’Bryan (MOTORWAY, FULLTIME KILLER). The resulting film though is heavy on tension and suspense with only a few moments of action near the end. I was actually expecting more of that given these two’s credits, their upcoming project MEANS TO AN END should provide that though.
DOWNRANGE marks Kitamura’s return to indie filmmaking after several studio based films and it shows in the limited sets and cast of unknowns. This works to the film’s advantage as he makes the limited area around the SUV feel claustrophobic. Sure, it’s open space, but moving more than a few feet in the wrong direction leaves you open for sudden death, the cast is just as trapped as if they were locked in a house. The lack of studio involvement also leaves him free to be as bloody and nihilistic as he wants and to take things as far as he wants. Be warned, this is an intense ride.
Having debuted as part of TIFF’s Midnight Madness DOWNRANGE will be making the festival rounds before going into distribution. And this is a perfect film to see with an audience if you get the chance