Interview: ‘The Ranger’ Director Jenn Wexler Talks Punk Rock, Final Girls, and Posers

Jenn Wexler’s feature film debut, The Ranger, is a punk rock slasher that pits city-slicker punks against a nature-loving park ranger with a taste for blood. It is a film that emanates beautiful chaos, set to a screaming soundtrack that makes the film feel both timeless and so quintessentially 80s. It is unlike any slasher you’ve seen (read our review). Wexler took the time to speak with me about her first feature film, growing up in the punk rock community, and translating that experience into a horror movie.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

Much Ado About Cinema: Why did you want to make a slasher about punk and punk rock?

Jenn Wexler: So the idea of these punks that go up against this park ranger was originally the idea of my co-writer. We were in college together, we majored in screenwriting, and this was his senior screenplay. We didn’t know what to do with it at the time. But we workshopped all of our ideas in class and I became so attracted to the idea of punks vs a park ranger because just within that there was so much about rebellion versus authority. There’s so much you can do visually with that. Also, when I was a teenager, I used to go to a lot of punk shows. I grew up in this suburban town and I didn’t feel like I fit in at school, but I did feel like I fit in when I went to these shows. I already had this history with that world, so there was always something about this idea that I was attracted to.

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‘Tater Tot & Patton’ is a Beautiful Piece of Quiet Cinema About Healing and Connection

On-screen intergenerational clashes, especially those between millennials and the older generation, are a dime a dozen. In a play for laughs, the two groups clash over texting, social media, money, and avocados. But in Andrew Kightlinger’s new film, Tater Tot & Patton, both generations are portrayed with nuance and care, coming together in an attempt to understand, heal, and grieve. Sure, there is a little bit of cheesy millennial dialogue (“hardcore cringe”) but this is not a film that tries to poke fun at either group. Rather, it shows the individual struggles and strengths that go unnoticed due to assumptions about age and gender.

Tater Tot & Patton takes place on a ranch in South Dakota, run by Erwin (Bates Wilder). He spends his days keeping up the land, caring for cattle, and drinking beer after beer. But his quiet routine is interrupted when his niece, Andie (Jessica Rothe), comes to stay with him from L.A. in lieu of going to rehab. She is the image of a stereotypical spoiled millennial, demanding the wifi password, refusing to eat meat, and groaning at minor inconveniences. But as soon as these character traits are introduced, they are wiped away in the name of giving her more depth. Erwin gets a similar treatment, never seeming like a stereotypical redneck or country boy, but rather a sympathetic character in the throes of grief. As Andie spends more time with her uncle, they each learn more about each other and realize how much they need one another to heal their respective traumas.

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MUBI Cannes Takeover: 12 Great Films You Can Catch on MUBI During the Festival

Cannes is just around the corner, and for those of us stuck at home wistfully thinking of the Croisette, there is no better place to turn than to the exceptional catalogue of past Cannes selections. MUBI have helpfully prepared a brilliant streaming lineup for their next twelve days of programming, presenting an iconic past Cannes film every day of the festival – surely enough to sate our cinematic appetites without even the need to even get up from the couch. Fantastique!

Read on to find out what our writers thought about the films included in this year’s Cannes MUBI lineup – from sadomasochistic horror, to the first movie to ever premiere in 3D at the festival, to a beloved Palme d’Or winner, there’s something here for everyone.

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Jenn Wexler Beautifully Blends Punk Rock and 80s Slashers in ‘The Ranger’

The woods are no place for punks—at least, that seems to be the case in Jenn Wexler’s feature film debut, The Ranger. Despite their studded jackets and tough attitudes, Wexler’s punks are no match for a deranged park ranger who knows these woods like the back of his hand. Set to a screaming soundtrack and chock full of gnarly kills, The Ranger is a creative reimagining of 1980s slasher films that rewrites its more harmful tropes into something perfect for our current cultural moment, a brilliant mashing of nostalgia and progressive filmmaking.

Chelsea (Chloë Levine) is an angsty punk who is haunted by a trauma in her past. She snorts coke, thrashes around at shows, and surrounds herself with insufferable people who help her keep the demons at bay. All that is initially shown about this trauma is a younger version of herself (Jeté Laurence, fresh off a wild performance in Pet Sematary) sitting on a cliff with The Ranger (Jeremy Holm), who tells her she is a wolf. But her coke-fueled haze is interrupted when cops bust into the bar where she’s partying with her boyfriend and friends. As she tries to escape the law, her intolerable boyfriend, Garth (Granit Lahu), stabs a cop to help her get away.

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Using Animation to Imagine Terrifying, Glorious, and Queer Futures in ‘Love, Death, and Robots’

Let’s face it: we live in a terrifying world. Every piece of news seems to further illustrate our awful reality and it’s hard to feel like anything is ever going to get better. But, in times like this, a little imagination can work wonders in imagining what different versions of the future would look like, futures that contain wondrous machines, bloodthirsty monsters, and powerful figures that fight oppressive systems. Netflix’s animated series, Love, Death, and Robots works to harness the power of imagination in the creation of 18 different futures that are dark, terrifying, hopeful, and even queer. Sure, it is not perfect, but it is a beautiful example of how animation can provide us images of a previously unimaginable future, one that discusses queer representation, oppression, and bodily autonomy.

Controversy sprouted on Twitter when one user pointed out that the order in which the episodes were served up to viewers was potentially based on their sexuality, which is a terrifying prospect in itself. Even now sexuality is being used to judge what content to give us, even if Netflix so vehemently denies this is the case. This is only one small example of the terrifying digital future that is expanding exponentially by the minute, one that provides us with tools to educate, build community, spread hate, and harm. Even in the face of the irony of its distribution, Love, Death and Robots expands on these tools into previously unimaginable possibilities.

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VIDEO: It’s Alive! – Rebirth and Transformation in Horror

This month’s video was posted a little late, it marks the debut of our writer, Mary Beth McAndrews (@mbmcandrews), as part of our video team! Mary Beth is a cinema studies major with a focus on the horror genre, so her new video focusing on the themes of rebirth and transformation is a perfect encapsulation of her interests.

If you want to stay updated on our content, or see these new videos as soon as possible, be sure to follow us at @muchadocinema on twitter!

Go On a Psychedelic Adventure With Winnie Cheung’s ‘Albatross Soup’

Winnie Cheung’s animated short, Albatross Soup, is a fascinating combination of animation and documentary. A group of 50 people were tasked to answer a riddle, which is asked by a god-like narrator: “A man gets off a boat. He walks into a restaurant and orders albatross soup. He takes one sip… pulls out a gun, and shoots himself to death. So…why did he kill himself?” As the subjects work their way through the riddle, trippy illustrations animate each question and attempt to construct the narrative. In just a few minutes, we are taken on a psychedelic ride about a man, a bowl of albatross soup, and an island.

Albatross Soup pulls you in and has you playing along with the brain teaser, which feels more like a choose-your-own-adventure story with a complex narrative arc. Fiona Smyth’s illustrations and Masayoshi Nakamura’s animations flow seamlessly together, creating a fluid experience that replicates a stream-of-consciousness logic that matches the attempt to solve a riddle.

Cheung, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker, talked with me over the phone about creating such a unique hybrid documentary, why she chose this riddle, and what it takes to work with animators.

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