A group of twentysomething strangers carpooling on a cross-country road trip find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere by a flat tyre. Almost immediately, they begin being picked off by a sniper and must frantically figure out how they can escape.
If not done well, films driven by pure malevolence can often end up as exercises in tedium. When it’s immediately made clear how little anything that happens actually matters, then why should you care? Fortunately, despite (or perhaps because of) Downrange’s nihilistic hopelessness, it’s a masochistically enthralling experience. Director Ryûhei Kitamura, previously responsible for the likes of the bleak bloodbath of The Midnight Meat Train and the hyperviolent insanity of Versus, brings us a vindictive barrage of blood and bullets that demands your constant engagement.
Despite the absurdly basic setup it never feels like the plot is being padded out, the relentless intensity remaining at a constant level for the full 85-minute run time. More of a scenario than a story, various developments prevent things from becoming boring or repetitive, and events are kept streamlined by the complete omission of any explanation of who the sniper is or speculation over why he’s doing this. The characters undergo constant anguish and suffering both physical and mental, and even after they’re dead their bodies are subjected to further sadistic indignities as they become fodder for crows, wasps and flies as their corpse meat slowly begins rotting under the unforgiving heat of the naked sun.
Some bare-bones character development is afforded to those who last long enough, coming out through natural dialogue rather than the usual tactic of crowbarring in life details to artificially generate empathy for someone right before they’re killed. This is aided by the conceit of the characters coming together via a car-sharing app, meaning that despite them all being together they don’t actually know each other. Thus, any unprompted offering of personal information sounds far less jarring, and it also means that unit cohesion is much harder to come by since it’s that much more difficult for the characters to understand or predict each other’s reactions.
The cast of unfamiliar actors prevents predictions of the order in which characters will die (or the stunt deaths of named actors being killed off early on), forcing you to become invested in each of them. Each viewer will likely respond to different characters for various reasons, meaning that their favourites could well end up dead without a moment’s notice, and the seemingly inescapable situation makes you wonder how any of them can possibly make it out alive.
A brutal and uncaring assault on your sensibilities delivered with the precision impact of one of its sniper’s bullets, Downrange is spiteful, malicious, mean-spirited and utterly compelling.
DOWNRANGE / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: RYÛHEI KITAMURA / SCREENPLAY: RYÛHEI KITAMURA, JOEY O’BRYAN / STARRING: KELLY CONNAIRE, STEPHANIE PEARSON, ROD HERNANDEZ, ANTHONY KIRLEW / RELEASE DATE: TBA