Six young, attractive people are carpooling together when they have a blowout on a secluded highway. It’s not an unfamiliar scenario at first blush, but Ryûhei Kitamura’s Downrange doesn’t truck much with the predictable after the opening twenty seconds. Taking place in one location - that lonesome stretch of blacktop - the next ninety minutes are an exercise in punishing these characters in the most increasingly ludicrous ways possible.
Even the set-up is less predictable than it seems, as it turns out that most of the 20-somethings don’t even really know each other. Sara (Alexa Yeames) and Todd (Rod Hernandez) are a couple who gathers together a carpool group of strangers for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. In the group we’ve got Jeff (Jason Tobias), a handsome nice guy, Erik (Anthony Kirlew), a giant nerd, Jodi (Kelly Connaire), a sweetheart just trying to get to her baby sister’s birthday party, and Keren (Stephanie Pearson), who – well, I’ll let Keren give you her own biography. “Army brat. Hunting family. I grew up around guns.”
Keren’s origin story ends up coming in very handy, because this was no accidental blowout. There’s an elaborately camouflaged rifleman (Aion Boyd) hiding in a nearby tree, waiting to pick off this carful of hapless strangers one by one. It would be ideal if we gave a damn, but Downrange never succeeds in making us care about any of these people. The film would be better served if the first fifteen minutes weren't quite so stilted. The small talk is all so vacuous, the performances rather cold. When eyeballs start popping and skulls start splitting, it’s really no great loss.
Still, there’s no denying that you’ll have a good time with all of this gnarly gore. Downrange could start to feel static - one not particularly attractive location, a small and rapidly dwindling set of not particularly engaging characters - but Kitamura keeps things interesting with wild camera movements. Downrange bops around between extreme forced perspective shots, spinning bird’s-eye views and POVs from inside gaping bullet wounds.
And oh boy, are there bullet wounds. The injuries and deaths in Downrange start insane and grow apocalyptic. Poor dorky Erik gets the brunt of the abuse, but everyone suffers here. The escalation in this movie is truly something to behold, and when a family of three drives up, we think we know what’s in store for them, but Downrange’s plans are even crueler than we could imagine.
It’s a hateful movie, but also a movie so progressively ridiculous that by the bloody end, you can’t be mad at it. Downrange is dumb and mean, but it’s also fun and fearless. There's a freewheeling sense of "we do what we want" here, and there's something sort of admirable about that.