Recently screened at TIFF 2017 (Toronto International Film Festival), we saw “Downrange” the new film from director Ryûhei Kitamura who in the past brought us cult films like the bat-shit crazy “Versus”, and the adaptation from Clive Barker’s tale “The Midnight Meat Train”, both films known for their unrestrained, violent content…. And luckily, this film is no exception.
“Six college students are carpooling cross-country when one of their tires blows out on a desolate stretch of country road. Getting out to fix the flat, they quickly discover that this was no accident. The tire was shot out. With their vehicle incapacitated, the group is pinned down and mercilessly attacked by an unseen assailant as they desperately attempt to find a way to escape.
I liked “Downrange” A LOT, while the plot might sound too simple on paper, on the screen was truly terrifying. The film wasted no time introducing the characters nor forced the audience to watch for 30 minutes how they get along, using the same tired cliche individuals: In less than 15 minutes we get that most of them meet recently, decided to share a ride and suddenly their lives are in danger due a merciless sniper on a lonely road in the middle of nowhere.
A familiy that was divided for many years gets together in a secluded house in the woods to try an extreme intervention in order to convince Justin (the younger son of the family) to leave a dangeroous cult that has turned him into a very violent person, and with a clear desdain for his family.
The task of getting back the person they knew as Justin is obviously not easy, even with the help of Jimmy, a former marine and a expert cult deprogrammer. After a very violent session, Jimmy warns the Powell family that although the damaged caused to Justin by the cult is very severe, they can still get him back, but they need to follow his instructions, no questions asked. This turns to be more complicated than expected since there is a lot of resentment among the family, specially towards the mother, who divorced her husband many years ago and left the family behind.
Justin, clearly mad about being abducted and brought to the house, claims to now go by the name of Thanatos, and that soon his new (and only) family will come to his rescue. He also lets the Powell know that everybody in the house, including the baby girl he just had with his girlfriend Samantha, will be sacrificed as punishment.
As soon as the night arrives, the Powell’s see that several strange masked people start to appear outside of their house, clearly stating, without saying a single word, that they have no intentions to negotiate, and that they will not go away without Justin. This will be the beginning of a siege where the blood will run on both sides, and where anybody can be the next to die…
Looking for her big break in the movie industry, Serena accepts the main role in a Slasher film. At first she has some concerns, thinking how this might affect her curriculum in the future, but after meeting the director and seeing how passionate he is about this project, since it will be his first feature, the young actress gets on board.
As soon as Serena and the rest of the cast arrive at the filming location, they are shocked to see that for the next three weeks they will be disconnected from the rest of the world: No internet, no cell phones and no TV, all this with the intention of avoiding any distractions, since the director, besides being excited for being able to do this film with the crew that he grew up with, wants to make the most authentic, realistic slasher possible.
At first, the shooting process seem to be advancing smoothly, but as the production advances, Serena finds odd that some of her fellow actors are gone as soon as they finish filming their scenes. The producer tells her that in order to save money, the company is sending the actors home immediately when they are no longer needed. While that may seems like a logical explanation, Serena starts to suspect that the production scenes playing on the monitors have very realistic special effects, and ends up discovering that the director and the crew have decided to change the rubber knives for the real thing, literally doing cuts in the cast and getting the more realistic horrified screams in the history of cinema.
Obsessed with the vampire lore, and believing he could be a vampire himself, Milo walks the streets of his city everyday, trying to find his place in the world and every now and then quench his thirst for the blood he assumes he needs. Since the other boys in the neighborhood never miss the opportunity to bully him every time they see him, Milo prefers to lock himself in his room with his VHS collection of vampire films, or watching videos in the internet about nature’s predators and slaughterhouses.
One of those days where Milo is hunting for victims and doing research in order to become a better hunter, he meets a new young, attractive tenant in his building called Sophie, that seems to not only be a social outcast like him, but also could be have some skeletons in the closet. Getting along pretty much from the beginning, Milo and Sophie start a almost naive sentimental relationship that balances out the dark side that both seems have. This new situation, very different from indifference he mostly receives from this useless brother, makes Milo reflect on his identity and to think about stopping his transformation into the monster he believed he was destined to become.
All Liza wanted was the chance to start a new life and to get out of the dump she was living, and Chip just wanted to see his girlfriend happy. There is a reason why everybody says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The plan was simple: Get into the house and take the 68 grand from Ken, Liza’s wealthy Sugar Daddy. The job was supposed to be quick, the good old “in and out” thing, and nobody was supposed to get hurt, but as we all know, The Devil is in the details, and Chip suddenly finds himself with not only two corpses on his conscience but also a hostage in the trunk.
Liza, who clearly has no problems with spilling blood, specially if is not hers, suggest that Chip should dispose of Violet, their hostage and the only witness of their crime, but Chip, who actually does not have a single criminal bone in his body, decides to save Violet and escape with her, accidentally taking the money in the process. This ignites the rage of she who Chip considered the woman of his dreams, and from there on, Chip will be running for his life, being threatened not only by Liza, but also by other more bizarre and violent characters that he will meet along the way…
Sam and Ian are a couple that while trying to escape the chaotic life in city, decide to camp in a remote lake for the weekend, a place found by recommendation from a local stranger. To their surprise, when the couple arrive at the lake they see that they are not the only ones at the camp, since there is a tent near the lake’s shore, although they can not see the owners. Assuming that the other campers could be hiking in the woods, the couple decide not to think much about it and enjoy the peace and quiet.
After a relatively calm night, Sam and Ian start to feel uneasy by the absence of their neighbors and decide to look around their camp, finding the place trashed, and later finding a small boy clearly hungry and dehydrated. Convinced that the child’s parents could be hurt or worse, the couple try to go for help, but find their car with a flat tire and that their cell phones have no signal. That’s when a local hunter arrives at the camp offering his help, and as you might expect, this is just the beginning of the problems for Ian and Sam.
OK, I am sure that the previous synopsis will make “Hunting Ground” sound like another film of a million out there about tourists sent to the slaughterhouse, but let me tell you, this film has a several things that felt fresh and can make it stand out from others, and while I will try to not get into spoiler territory, I will explain why you should definitely give “Hunting Ground” a chance.