Downrange (2017) [Toronto International Film Festival 2017]

A group of students sharing a car to various destinations has a tire blow-out that leaves them stranded.  Soon they discover that this was not an accident and they are now in grave danger.

Written by Joey O’Bryan and Ryûhei Kitamura with the latter also directing, Downrange is a tense, one location thriller that grabs the viewer early on and doesn’t let go until the end credits roll.  For fans of Kitamura, this is a return to sources, to his earlier style of having a story set in one location and making it a tense experience for all involved.  This, here, is very successful and works like a charm in the desolate location on a road in the middle of nowhere.  This setting works really well here and the collection of characters and how they came to be together adds to the tension and mystery.  The film uses the fact that there are many unknowns to work in its favor.  The situation is tense enough on its own but the way the characters interact and are portrayed make it work even better.

These characters are played by a varied cast composed in parts by Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson, Rod Hernandez, Anthony Kirlew, Alexa Yeames, Jason Tobias and a few others.  The main cast does great work trying to survive and figure out what is happening to them while also being strangers to each other and thus not knowing what each is made off and what they have waiting for them.  This leads to extra tension between the characters are times on top of the situation’s tension.  The way the cast works with this creates an ensemble that works very well together.  Also showing up in what feels like his 12th time this year (actual number may be lower) is Graham Skipper who gives his usual talented performance that may steal a scene or two.

The film is shot in a way that uses the same one location from multiple angles and vantage points, leading to a dynamic use of the one location.  The cinematography by Matthias Schubert makes great use of the desolate road location and the way the characters are prisoners while out in the open while giving beautiful views of the action and violence.  The film looks great while also creating a sort of claustrophobia in an open space, something that is not easy to achieve.  The look and mood of the film create a feeling of closed quarters in the outdoors, adding even more tension.  Working with these images is the music by Aldo Shllaku which is understated at times and works fantastically well throughout the film.

The special effects here are a split between practical and CGI from the looks of things and that works great in this situation.  The practical effects done under special makeup effects artist/ makeup department head Kazuyuki Okada are fantastic with some pieces looking absolutely gross and great.  The visual effects that are used in cases where practical effects were not practical were done under visual effects supervisor Matthew Gabriel Wagner’s supervision and they look decent with only a few hiccups here and there where they are not so great, but that’s easily forgivable as it’s not all that noticeable in the long run.

Downrange is a fantastic thriller with strong tension and a sense of dread and stress throughout.  It shows what humans do when forced to team up to survive and how a crazy situation can lead to the best and worst coming out of people.  Director Ryûhei Kitamura creates strong tension with his return to sources.  He does here what many have attempted in vain, use the great outdoors as a claustrophobic setting and do so successfully.  Downrange is a strong outing with good performances, gross effects, and tension that surrounds everything in it.