In general, the tone of Japanese horror is very different from American horror. It surprised me that Ryuhei Kitamura of Midnight Meat Train had directed this indie that I missed until I noticed it recently on Shudder.
It took me a while to figure out why I was checking my watch only twenty minutes into "Downrange" --- by that time, the screenwriters (Kitamura and Joey O'Brien) are supposed to have given you a reason to not just side with the killer. Unless you're blindsided that this is a sniper movie, or get emotional when paper targets blow up, that's essential. But none of that human homework is really done, and the actors can't be expected to invent good dialogue, unfortunately. For an example of another recent horror movie that *does* bother to do this, and benefits greatly from it, see "Hell Fest".
I don't often say this, but Kitamura seems totally wrong for this project. In addition, to being ultra-heavy on exploding, decomposing flesh, a lot of the dialogue his college-age mains spout seems dorky and awkward. There's *one* moving backstory (well played by Rod Hernandez) but it's explained about half-way into the movie (for a good reason), but by then, it's too little too late.
To be fair, ANY sniper movie is a tough one to write. It's not pure action as it demands a lot of personal interplay, so you can't fake or go light on the character development (there are a plethora of cat-and-mouse action sequences hiding behind a massive SUV that actually get, yeah... BORING). Even when I did start to care for the characters during these times, their dialogue became inane.
Speaking of which, the pace of the script doesn't steadily accelerate as it should in a thriller with this much action, and no amount of camera and drone tricks help. By the time another vehicle meanders into scope of the sniper, the carnage is so OOT it's laughable. Additionally, the makeup effects aren't up to the amount of lens time Kitamura wants to expose. Many look very fake and rubbery (with far too many long close-ups). Why do we need to see that anyway...? Well --- that's one of the style differences in Japanese/US Horror. I still don't get it... I've never been in love with Japanese horror, but I know many people who are. They'd probably love this movie, come to think of it.
Downrange's script also seems to reach for lofty heights when it can't nail the basics of pace and development, which plain annoyed me. When it isn't boring or making us cringe at the number of idiotic choices the characters make, it's piling really tasteless sledgehammer symbolism like the lone African-american menaced by the white wolf, all the most expendable characters seemingly from mixed-ethnic relationships, and even the use of the SUV is a bit overcooked by now (yeah, it's a stretch but we're not talking David Chase Last Episode of Sopranos pithiness, here).
Despite all this, it's worth a look if you're into really graphic, fairly sadistic horror (with a very nihilistic ending that I also saw coming point blank about five minutes before it happened). Overall, this movie's main failure is the script and it's ability to generate any real emotion or suspense except on the most superficial level. Then when it does, the blood and guts just rain down like the pig's blood buckets from Carrie's prom, without any of the needed gravitas or build-up.
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