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A relentless killer aims his sights on six college students stranded on the side of the road. A dead zone of sorts, cell phone reception is not a luxury these kids have in their most desperate time of need. From Japanese filmmaker, Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, The Midnight Meat Train), Downrange is a high tension horror-thriller that drew inspiration from Kitamura’s own personal fears. Written by Kitamura alongside Jay O’Bryan, Downrange exploits the helplessness of being hunted by an unseen killer, while the victims are isolated and completely cut off the grid.

Kitamura manages to keep a steady pace throughout the film, without interrupting the intensity of the story. As six college kids wander around the stranded vehicle, in attempts to change a blown tire as well as find cellular reception, a sniper watches from the distance. With the sudden discovery of the sniper rifle bullet dislodged from the flat tire, the killer narrative goes into overdrive as these frantic teens fall prey to the unknown assassin’s lust for the hunt.

The tension in Downrange keeps you on high alert right from the start. Kitamura peels away any sense of safety as the unseen killer, whose motives are unknown, eliminates any chance of escape; let alone any chance of surviving a few more hours. Even in moments when shots are not fired, I found myself clenching at the thought of someone getting shot at any moment, from any direction. When that moment didn’t come, it only heightened the tension as well as my anxiety even further.

Kitamura’s choice of casting held no bearings on social cliches that interfered with the film’s plot. Just as most horror films fall victim to generic characters, or formulated casting to fulfill type casts and cliches, Downrange assures the audience that NO ONE is safe nor excluded from the killer’s intent of murder. The extreme vulnerability of the situation provided an opportunity for the cast to showcase their talents, and as a result performed exceptionally well. This was quite a surprise, as the first ten minutes of the film, filled with nonsensical dialogue and awkward performances, nearly sabotaged the film. Luckily, this was not the case once the narrative kicked into full gear.

Kitamura’s high tension thriller is a merciless display of madness preying on the helpless–a  story of surviving an unfortunate event after being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Downrange takes a minimalist approach in presenting a simple premise in a grandiose fashion; bullets soaring, heads bursting, and cars exploding all thanks to the relentless killer’s intent on leaving no survivors. This simplistic approach avoids excess subplots and distractions from the high tension in order to keep you engaged, and perhaps also trying to figure out a means of escape. Downrange premiered on April 24th, 2018 and can be found exclusively on Shudder.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ryuhei Kitamura and his works, he recently did an interview on writer/director Mick Garris’ podcast titled Post Mortem (produced by Blumhouse). The podcast was released last April and shares some wonderful insight on Kitamura’s filmmaking struggles, and more importantly his successes. Check out Downrange on Shudder. It’s a worthy film if you’re looking for your next horror, thrill ride. Thanks for reading.

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