Horror Marginalia: “Downrange”

Six strangers who are carpooling to mostly unknown destinations are derailed when a tire blows on a desolate stretch of highway. In changing it, they discover that the tire was actually shot by an unseen sniper somewhere out there in the landscape around them, and that sniper is out to kill them.

There are some interesting ideas at play in Downrange, but the movie can’t quite figure out what to do with them.

The film doesn’t waste any time stranding our six strangers – the blowout happens moments in — and the revelation of their plight is satisfying creepy (not to mention gory). The first deaths are quick and surprising, and there’s a delicious, disorienting energy in the film’s opening stretch. It seems we might be in for a “locked room” experience in the vein of Cujo, only with the monster hidden from view.

Unfortunately, the film expands outward into more well-worn horror movie tropes. As the remaining targets try to figure out a way to escape, there’s an abundance of MacGyver-style hijinks to figure out the sniper’s location and to find an escape route. But the logic is often wonky and the performances are verging on hysterical. There are decent stretches of the film where you can check Twitter and not miss a thing, and you’re sometimes rooting for the sniper to just get it over with.

Things improve when a new car arrives (fresh meat!), but even an injection of new faces and a lot of blood can’t get us back on course. The fresh meat set up the film’s final act, which lumbers to a confrontation between sniper and target that uncomfortably inches into slasher film territory. We end on a note that doesn’t satisfy any of our expectations, and the whole enterprise feels frustratingly off.

When it works, Downrange is a goofy, gory ride with a few tense scenes and some enjoyably gross kills. Despite its frustrations, you want to stick with the film. But it is never as good as you want it to be.

It’s a shot that misses the target due to some shaky aim.

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