The result of 9/11 was years of brutal filmmaking. Out of the chaos came films like Cabin Fever, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, High Tension, Hostel, and even SAW, all of which helped give birth to what mainstream press obnoxiously referred to as “torture porn”. The pain and suffering ran its course by 2006 and set the stage for Paranormal Activity to shift filmmakers’ focus to found-footage. While James Wan’s The Conjuring universe is dominating the box office, the strain on the world is starting to infect directors once again; New Line Cinema’s IT reflects this as we can all feel the seismic shift on the horizon…horror is about to get brutal once again.
Alex Aja’s High Tension helped launch the return of hardcore horror in 2003 when it screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, and now Ryuhei Kitamura is doing the same with his Downrange, which world premiered as part of the Midnight Madness program. The premise is quite simple, stranding a carpool of teenagers on the side of the road as an enigmatic sniper targets them one-by-one.
Kitamura’s Downrange is 100% pure rage, leaving brains splattered across the hot pavement, and murdering innocent children who accidentally end up at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s about as mean-spirited as horror can get…and it’s glorious. While typically turned off by films this dark and unforgiving, Downrange is an uncomfortable and unapologetic breath of fresh air. It feels necessary. Horror has gone soft.
This premise is nothing new, with Ti West having shot out Trigger Man in 2007, while Mickey Keating more recently took aim at Sundance audiences with his Carnage Park (2016). Downrange is better than both, pushing the boundaries of what’s capable in a single location. Kitamura begins eviscerating people within minutes and uses simple logic to introduce more fresh meat throughout the picture. There’s a firestorm of bullets and flesh that make it one of the bloodiest films in recent memory. What was remarkable, however, was how engaging it all is. It’s loaded with nonstop thrills that will have audiences on the edge of their seats until the shocking conclusion.
If there’s actual social commentary in Downrange is debatable, but in the current climate, it gets a pass. (At least it’s not actively trying to hurt the audience.) It’s been awhile since we’ve seen anything with this much grit and guts, with Kitamura digging down deep to deliver a punch that’s going to knock audiences right on their asses.