Fantasia: The Ranger Director Jenn Wexler & Producer Heather Buckley
Glass Eye Pix and Hood River Entertainment are releasing The Ranger at the IFC Center in New York this weekend, and ComingSoon.net had the chance to chat with director Jenn Wexler and producer Heather Buckley at Fantasia Fest last month. Check out our interview about the punks vs park ranger horror flick below, and come see our own Max Evry intro the film at New York’s IFC Center this Saturday, August 18 at 8:20pm with Wexler and Buckley in attendance!
“I always wanted to direct, that was kind of a dream of mine,” said Wexler of where The Ranger originated from. “I wanted to produce and support these filmmakers telling their stories, but I was also paying close attention to things and putting them in my brain for things I’d want to pull from when it came time to direct my first film. ‘The Ranger’ was something me and a friend wrote when we were in college together. I loved it because the logline itself is so visual, the punk colors clashing with the woodland world. It was something I could shoot on a budget. It’s kids in the woods, and because they’re punks there’s still this element of style and production design to it.”
“I was originally given the script to read because I am Jenn’s friend,” said longtime Blu-ray special features producer Heather Buckley, who makes her producing debut on the film. “She said, ‘This is a script about punk rock, why don’t you check it out?’ I was very taken by the authenticity of the characters because they remind me of my friends. In the reviews some of them say, ‘these kids are assholes.’ I know I’m an asshole, because there’s a sort of joking, east coast ball-busting obnoxiousness in that kind of character. During the live show sequence is a lot of my friends. I hawked over the gear, the clothes that they wear. I was able to get a music supervisor who knew all the bands that wound up on the soundtrack. I was able to work with Mr. Lobo who did all the flyers and logos on the gear and the animation at the beginning and end.”
The film got a special leg up from Fantasia Fest’s Frontieres program, where Wexler, Buckley and famed New York producer Larry Fessenden (Habit, House of the Devil) were able to secure the financing they needed to make it.
“In 2016, Glass Eye -myself and Larry- and Heather Buckley, we all went to the Frontiers program,” Wexler explained. “We went there with our look book, and we had a presentation, we had shot a teaser and everything. We pitched the project and Andrew van den Houten really dug it and decided we were gonna make it together.”
“It’s on the short side, it’s three chords, it gets in and gets out, it’s f*cking colorful, it’s on drugs, it’s socio-political… it’s almost a punk song,” Buckley says of the film. “I used to be a creative director in the advertising world, and I would send Jenn stuff while she was working on it. I pitched it to an investor without being a producer, just to help her out. At some point I became co-producer on the project to get that done.”
The punks in the film never feel like a parody, and carry themselves with the appropriate level of punk-osity.
“We talked about 80’s punk movies like ‘Repo Man’ and ‘Class of 1984’ and ‘Return of the Living Dead,'” Wexler said. “This goes for the ranger character too: I wanted everybody to treat the characters like real people. I didn’t want anybody to do anything with a wink. It is able to maintain this truth because all the actors are being earnest with the way they treat the characters. The punks and the ranger both have the rules they live by, they both have the uniforms they wear. The way they look at the world is very locked into place and you kind of have to abide by it or else you’re not really that thing. Kelsey, meanwhile, is trying to figure herself out while all these groups are telling her what she should be.”
While Buckley is consistently dressed in leather and patches and studded bracelets, Wexler doesn’t wear her punk past on her sleeve… although she did have an authentic love of the punk lifestyle.
“It was a big part of my teenage development,” Wexler said of her punk background. “I grew up in this suburban town in New Jersey where you were supposed to be a cheerleader or on the football team or whatever. I never felt like I clicked in that world. When I started to go to punk shows as a teenager it was very exciting to learn that there were other groups of people and there was a different kind of space. It was very important to the discovery of my identity, and that goes for horror movies as well. Something I discovered in my early adolescence. It was an escape from the drudgery of suburbia.”
“When people see me out in the world, I dress like post-90’s punk,” Buckley said. “We already have the labels, we have the look down. I’m very attracted to the English ’77 look. New York City is very steeped in that. I was always attracted to that since I was a little girl but I didn’t know what it was until I watched ‘Fear No Evil’ in 1988 and heard The Sex Pistols on the soundtrack and it felt directly like myself. I continue this throughout my life, that energy of rebellion, questioning. I always tell people punk is intellectual, and it’s also the joker and the rebel simultaneously. The tone of the film is a true punk rock tone when you look at it.”
After a run-in with the cops at a punk show goes sideways, Chelsea (Chloe Levine, The Transfiguration) and her pals flee the city in search of a place to lay low. Running to the security of Chelsea’s old, abandoned family cabin in the woods, they fall under the watchful eye of an overzealous park ranger (Jeremy Holm, House of Cards) who holds a secret from Chelsea’s past. Set to the beat of a killer punk soundtrack (Fang, The Avengers, The Grim, Rotten UK and more) and presented in eye-popping neon colors, Jenn Wexler’s debut offers a modern take on survivalist horror that both celebrates and subverts the genre’s tropes—with equal parts humor, glitter and gore.
The Ranger is the directorial debut from Jenn Wexler, producer of Ana Asensio’s 2017 SXSW Competition Winner Most Beautiful Island, Robert Mockler’s Like Me (2017), and Mickey Keating’s Psychopaths (2017) and Darling (2016). The Ranger world premiered at SXSW 2018, was in official selection for the innagural What The Fest!?, recently played the Fantasia International Film Festival, and is set to open London’s FrightFest.
The film is co-written by Giaco Furino and Wexler, who also produced along with horror veteran Larry Fessenden, Heather Buckley, Ashleigh Snead and Andrew van den Houten.