By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Most of Jenn Wexler’s THE RANGER takes place in the great outdoors where the title character does his dirty work, but when RUE MORGUE first visits the shoot, the setting couldn’t be more different.
In a small Brooklyn club, a group of youths dressed in shades of black and metal are moshing to “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” and similar tunes as red and blue lights provide a giallo-esque ambience. Some police arrive to raid the place, and our central teen characters, Chelsea (Chloe Levine), Abe (Bubba Weiler) and Jerk (Jeremy Pope), flee amidst the ensuing chaos. They’ll wind up hightailing it out of the city and into the woods, where the eponymous Ranger (Jeremy Holm) will set his murderous sights on them.
The film, which we first reported on here, also stars Amanda Grace Benitez and Granit Lahu, and marks Wexler’s directorial debut from a script she wrote with Giaco Furino, after numerous stints as a producer for Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix. (She’s also producing this one, along with Fessenden and Heather Buckley for Glass Eye, and Andrew van den Houten and Ashleigh Snead of Hood River Entertainment.) That’s not the only Fessenden connection in THE RANGER; Levine stars in the current vampire release THE TRANSFIGURATION, in which Fessenden has a cameo, and that helped lead to her casting here.
“I saw THE TRANSFIGURATION for the first time at South by Southwest,” he tells RUE MORGUE. “I was down there to promote a couple of movies, and I was lucky enough to be at their premiere. I met Chloe, and I thought she was really dynamic and fantastic—as was Eric [Ruffin], of course, her co-star. I mentioned her to Jen, who was also down there, so she got hip to Chloe, and we invited her to meet. We just knew she’d be great for THE RANGER, and it’s fantastic that it came together.”
Fessenden goes on to reveal that he himself will take his usual bit part in THE RANGER, though he won’t cotton to just what it entails. “It’s very small, and oddly consequential,” he teases. “I’ll leave it at that!”
The three young stars are more forthcoming about their roles when they take a few minutes to talk during a break in shooting. “Chelsea is a total punk bad-ass who uses that scene, I would say, as a way to run away from something in her past,” Levine explains. In that sense, there’s a bit of correlation between Chelsea and her troubled Sophie in THE TRANSFIGURATION. “They’re definitely both trying to escape their situations, but they handle it totally differently,” she notes.
“Abe is like a trivia catalog, a total punk nerd,” Weiler says. “He totally geeks out on this stuff; he has VHS tapes of all the punk movies [though he’s not retro that way; the movie is set in the ’80s], he knows every fact about every band—just a very well-researched punk, you know? He’s sort of the goofy, lovable one, and he always tries to cut the tension with a joke, and keep everything light. Like when people start to fight, he’s the peacekeeper.”
Showing off the cans of spray paint in his various pockets, Pope says, “Jerk is our tagger, letting everyone know that he’s here, and here to stay. I look at Jerk as kind of the big brother of the group. He’s mellow, chill, but still into the punk scene, and down to have a good time.”
None of these young actors had been born during the period in which THE RANGER is set, and Wexler made sure to educate them about punk in all its permutations. “I wasn’t into that music at all, but I feel like I might be after this,” Levine says. “It’s really dope. I’ve learned so much about it; I’ve been listening to only punk music, supplied by Jenn, for the past two weeks, and there’s a lot of exploring to do.”
“I went to my first punk show three weeks ago, and had the best time of my life,” Weiler says. “So I’m only recently starting to get into it, through all the stuff Jenn has showed me for research. I’m loving it. She showed me all these ’80s punk horror films that I’m so, so into right now.” Pope has had a similar experience: “I was not into the punk scene, but I am so curious and interested in learning and experiencing it. I’m loving the fact that we have real people who are into the scene on set. It feels like a big community—like people are meeting each other here for the first time and dancing in the mosh pit together, and having a great time. Some of them have been complimenting our outfits, which is like a confirmation that we belong. It feels good, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Look for more RUE MORGUE reportage on THE RANGER in the near future!