Back in 2014 cult Japanese director Ryuhie Kitamura delivered No One Lives, a camp pseudo-slasher with an inventive approach to gore and a ridiculous approach to logic. This year, Kitamura is back with Downrange, a visceral thriller which strands a group of strangers in the scopes of a merciless sniper.
No One Lives has a constantly evolving plot: it’s a kidnap thriller, a cat and mouse film, a slasher, a home invasion story, and it all works like a jigsaw of psychopathic flavours. Downrange is a much more straight forward film, but what it lacks in genre-jumping surprises, it makes up for in visceral tension and tight storytelling.
And holy shit is it tense. Kitamura’s smoking gun, alongside his inventiveness, is a keen appreciation for the grizzly. Bullets tear through flesh and metal like butter, leaving awkward dismembered corpses littered on the rural highway. This no-nonsense approach to gun gore is a big part of why the threat is so deadly and the film feels so current.
Its worth noting that this is a Japanese national’s take on an American problem. It’s an outsider’s perspective and considering the prevalence of gun crime, in 2018 alone, it feels particularly political. Kitamura’s most recent films have played out like scathing farces directed at sociopathic gun-toting America, but where No One Lives hit farce (whether incidental or not) Downrange is bone-chillingly cold and thus a much more effective horror experience.
Whilst the unseen sniper tears cars, trees, and flesh to bits, a cast of up and coming talents does their best with a relatively thin amount of character work. There are no bad actors here, Kitamura is great at choosing charismatic, quickly, and lovable performers who attract instant empathy. Kelly Connaire is a particular highlight, becoming one of the best heroines of the year just as the sniper very quickly becomes one of the most dangerous villains of 2018.
Downrange is a perfect tension trip. Superb effects, inventive survival techniques, and a great sense of space really help drag you into Kitamura’s dark world. Whilst you spend and hour and a half praying Downrange’s unlucky victims will catch a break, enjoy what is probably going to be the most technically succinct thriller of 2018.
Dir. Ryuhei Kitamura
Stars. Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson, Rod Hernandez, Anthony Kirlew, Alexa Yeames, Jason Tobias