Single location horror is either extremely effective in exhausting the possibilities of the format – think Open Water, and its magnificent use of the open ocean to build terror – or extremely tedious and lacklustre in attempting to create a spin on the format – ATM checks this box perfectly. Ryûhei Kitamura’s Downrange manages to sit comfortably in the middle – it starts slow and tedious, then ramps up the tension wonderfully to a beautiful, gore filled crescendo.
Downrange starts its single location concept simply enough – a car full of strangers heading to somewhere are forced to stop in an open area thanks to a tyre bursting. This being a car full of millennials, the answer to the joke ‘how many millennials does it take to change a tyre?’ is successfully answered with – none, they’re all too busy trying to get reception on their phones to share selfie images. That’s a little harsh, given some of the men in the group like to think they have a clue about how to change a tyre, but it becomes evident fairly quickly that this is not the case.
Before too long, the cause of the tyre blowout is discovered – a bullet. And not long after this, the carnage and slaughter begins. The cause of the carnage: a hidden sniper. Character development is minimal – Kelly Connaire’s Jodi has to get home to her sisters sixteenth birthday, Stephanie Pearson’s Keren is an army nut, Rod Hernandez’s Todd’s girlfriend is one of the first victims – but, this isn’t really the character driven kind of horror flick. Nope, it’s the gore soaked one, and each character is just another waiting for a bullet to come along and wreak havoc on their bodies – whether it be their shoulder, their eye, their leg, or their hands, you bet it’s going to get shot.
For fans of one of Kitamura’s previous efforts – The Midnight Meat Train – and lovers of gore, Downrange will satiate both itches equally. Working on a small budget, the gore is low key stuff, but works extremely well. Coming off like a blend of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, Downrange mixes the tension and violence superbly. Kitamura understands how to balance the tension and gore with ease – whether it be by suddenly killing off a character you assumed would be around for a while, or gradually drawing out the suffering of another character to amplify the fear, or, when the third act rolls around, putting characters in positions that you know aren’t going to end well, and then letting the viscous Rube Goldberg-esque violence play out.
What Downrange excels at is the understanding of what horror viewers want from their entertainment – and with this in mind, it appears to deliver a whole trilogy of films in one compact ninety minute ride. To say more would be to spoil the truly fantastic third act reveals and deaths. Needless to say, this is prime midnight horror fodder – feeding you tasty, corn syrup fuelled violence to keep you up until the early hours of the morning, creating a handy ‘best gore moments’ list that will inevitably keep changing as you’re reminded of the shot where a victim has their head squashed by a runaway car, or a crow plucks at another victims eyeball.
Downrange starts off tedious, with a run of the mill group of average navel gazing millennials, but when the horror kicks in it works wonderfully. Kitamura knows what he’s doing, and handles it wonderfully, wringing every last drop from the single location concept and ensuring that nothing is left on the table. When the third act kicks in, you won’t be able to contain yourself as victims start dropping like flies, and if you’re like me, you won’t be able to contain a exclamation of joy as each victim falls. A lot of fun, and it has one heck of a killer finale.
Director: Ryûhei Kitamura
Cast: Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson, Rod Hernandez
Writer: Ryûhei Kitamura, Joey O’Bryan