[Chattanooga Film Fest 2018] Review: DOWNRANGE Is A Restrained And Patient Thrill Ride

Sometimes less is more. It’s not always about the hundred things you like but instead it’s about the 3-4 things you love that can really make the difference on how you feel leaving a film. Nowadays, you find that often times directors rely heavily on big name actors, huge set pieces, and billion-dollar budgets to propel a narrative forward and create those positive feelings. While films like these have an important place in modern day cinema, it’s the films that push the boundaries with a one location, small budget, ingeniousness sort of uniqueness that can really win the heart of an audience.

In my opinion, films, regardless of genre or budget, need three things to captivate an audience. They need an intriguing premise, quality sound FX, and decent acting. I am happy to report that Downrange mostly delivers on all three fronts in a unique enough way that, for the entirety of the 1 hour and 25 minute runtime, I found myself pondering not “why are they doing what they are doing?” (which is a common place for me during horror films), but instead wondering “would I do anything differently?”  Sometimes less really is more and that is what director Ryuhei Katamura (Lupin the 3rd, Baton) is aiming for in this new Shudder exclusive.

Downrange opens with 6 college aged students carpooling across a long and lonely stretch of highway in the middle of Nowhere U.S.A, when one of their tires blows out and halts their journey. As a caravan full of students, who, all but two have never met each other would, there is a debate on how long (or even if) the tire can be changed and a mad dash to find what limited cell phone service they can (which I found to be a fairly entertaining perspective on the stereotypical millennial archetype). When one of them notice a bullet is the real reason for their sudden situation, the drama quickly unfolds as they discover a very patient shooter is aiming to take them out. This leads to what could have been an open environment action drama instead becoming a claustrophobic thriller as these strangers are stuck together for the majority of the film behind the only defense they have against the unknown shooter, a broken-down Dodge Expedition, trying to find a way to survive.

While to tell you which of the actors really had the right amount of opportunity to deliver upon Joey O’Briens screenplay would spoil the film, I will say that I was impressed with actors Rod Hernandez-Farella (Tom) and Stephanie Pearson (Karen) portrayal of their respective characters. While I can’t say every moment hit, I will say that if it weren’t for the believability and earnest that these two actors brought to their roles, I would likely be writing a very different review. There is one scene in particular that better known actors would have turned in to a cheesy hot mess whereas Rod handled in a way that made me feel empathy that I wouldn’t normally associate with such a scene. However, one of the most intriguing aspects that I felt was underutilized in this film, was the reality that these people had never met each other before. Instead of playing upon their unfamiliarity in an unfamiliar situation, the film had each character immediately fall into an almost Breakfast Club type stereotype, which detracted from what could have been important plot device.  

Speaking of empathy, I will say the sound f/x in this film were done with such care that I couldn’t help but feel connected to certain moments, regardless of everything else. From the buzzing of bees gathering around blood stained on the highway on the hot summer day this all took place in, to the cell phone social media apps and voice assistant sounds that dominated the first 15 minutes, the painstaking details put into the sound design impressed me throughout. One scene in particular was filled with the choked breathing of someone taking their very last few strained and bloody breathes, which was enough to stick out in my mind as one of my favorite moments. While the final act left some things to be desired from a cinematography standpoint, the sound design was consistent throughout and kept the story moving forward positively.

Overall, Downrange is as patient as its villain and while the final payoff might be able to be seen from a mile away, the intrigue and excitement for what was coming scene after scene was not. Director Ryuhei Katamura created something here that may not have hundred things you will like but does in fact have several things to love and is absolutely worth your time. Downrange releases exclusively to Shudder on April 26th.