Every streaming platform needs filler, something cheap and disposable to keep subscribers peaking at what’s available. Maybe a few people will watch it, because they have nothing better to do. And maybe that’s the best way to watch it. Plenty of services, especially when it comes to horror, have some straight unwatchable garbage, so coming across a movie that at least doesn’t put you to sleep can be a welcome treat. The movie is still cheap, poorly acted, lazily written, and shoddily produced, but at least some people die in the first hour. Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes that’s just what a person needs. For those people, Downrange will be a small miracle.
For everyone else, it’s just a bad movie.
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: April 26 (Shudder)
Downrange, exclusive to Shudder, is a movie that leans on the hope that being bloody is enough. Maybe the sacrifices of setting, character, plotting, and originality won’t be missed, because that hot red squirts out real good. And it does look good. Wounds have texture, and decomposition looks grotesque. Every instance of violence has an impact that will keep you awake through the stretches between, but it doesn’t do anything beyond that, and not one other part of the movie works to hold the thing together.
We have six friends on a road trip. The film opens with the back tire on their SUV shredding, and the vehicle slows to a stop. The characters climb out, assess the damage, and banter with interchangeable dialogue. None form a clear personality, not even as archetypes. Their talk has the generic feel of an example script for a “college friends replace a tire” writing prompt. We find that one girl is traveling to her sister’s surprise birthday party, because she has a monologue where she tells us that. Why everyone else is going with her remains one of the world’s greatest mysteries. You don’t bring a pack of frat boys to your sister’s sweet sixteen. It’s simply not done.
Most of the characters don’t even seem to know each other, one passing around her phone to get almost everyone else’s number. It’s weird. It’s like the movie assumes we somehow already know everyone’s relationships to each other. Maybe someone spilled water on the first fifteen pages of the script, and they just decided to film it as it was. I don’t know. But it leaves a good deal of distance between the viewer and the characters.
Soon enough, a sniper takes shots at the group, picking off a couple and leaving the rest to scramble for safety. Most take cover behind the SUV while one guy ends up behind a nearby log. Now, settle in, because this is the setting for the rest of the movie. A twenty-foot stretch of road with some woods on either side. It’s painfully narrow, and with the characters strapped to their positions, villain included, no one can make use of the limited setting. This isn’t to say that single-setting films can’t be good, but come on. Even cabins have multiple rooms and the surrounding area. Even movies that focus on a single space have a few scenes beyond that setting. Rear Window still had a courtyard and clusters of other apartments to peek into. This gives us nothing and suffers for it.
Kitamura (who directed the decent and bloodier Midnight Meat Train) even loses interest, sweeping the camera around at dramatic angles and spinning it from an aerial view while nothing happens with the plot. The dude’s just bored. And whenever a major instance of violence or destruction does occur, he pounces on it, either cutting around and slowly building to a reveal of gore or showing the same moment four or five times from different angles, because what else does he have to do with himself? The actors struggle with scraps, as well. They try to shout their lines with feeling and make out the grunting noises of suffering through pain, but it’s all hollow. And you can just about read the actors’ confusion when characters start doing the usual illogical horror stuff of walking into the killer’s sight or stopping one step away from freedom to get themselves killed.
Also, a wolf shows up for like a minute. A dying guy grabs the wolf’s paw, and then the rifle goes off, and the wolf runs away. I don’t know why this happens. I’d like to think it’s symbolic, or maybe the wolf was supposed to increase the tension. It’s another mystery.
And that’s somehow the worst part of the movie. It’s all surface, and yet it teases at the possibility of extra layers. Scant shots from the killer’s perspective give the idea that we might learn something about his motivations. We don’t. Police show up, and maybe they know more about what’s going on. They don’t. Over halfway through the movie, 80’s slasher synth music pulses with the onset of night, and maybe the wheels are about to come off, and the movie is going to become a ridiculous bloodbath. It doesn’t. The killer comes face-to-face with a victim, and maybe this will lead to some moment, some twist that will make the hour-plus of empty space worth it. Nothing.
The movie never cuts loose, never explores a theme. It has no lore, no backstory. A movie about a military sniper taking potshots at college students could have political undertones, but they didn’t even go there. When that tire blows out, and the SUV rolls to a halt, the movie stops with it.