A punk-fueled homage to ’80s-style horror, “The Ranger” takes its time getting to a full-blooded boil, ambling through a Linklater-esque first half before accelerating toward a more generic and gory finale.
Chloë Levine stars as Chelsea, whom we meet as a young girl (played sweetly in a prologue and flashbacks by Jeté Laurence), whose backstory features a dead uncle, a creepy park ranger, an enigmatic, traumatic event and the ominous threat of wolves.
Fast-forward a decade or so, and Chelsea is a leather-jacketed punk with cotton-candy-colored hair. A flurry of bad decisions leads her and her knife-flashing boyfriend Garth (Granit Lahu), plus three of their drug-snorting friends to her family’s long-abandoned cabin on a mountain in a national park.
Levine is a compelling protagonist and Jeremy Holm is very good in the title role, whose goofy sincerity masks what lies beneath. But the character isn’t fully-drawn, trapped somewhere between boogeyman status and being a figment of Chelsea’s imagination — with all the hallucinatory imagery, the whole thing could be a dream, or more precisely, a nightmare.
With performances and tech a cut above standard indie horror fare, director Jenn Wexler and her co-writer Giaco Furino’s ambitions hold our attention through the first 40 minutes before shifting to more well-trod turf. It’s a woman against (her own) nature tale with some interesting motifs, but ultimately “The Ranger” promises more than it delivers.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes