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When every bullet hits its mark: The Shudder Exclusive “Downrange” is a gripping, highly original, pulse-pounding thriller that never lets up.

Ryuhei Kitamura’s Downrange tells the savage story of a group of 20-somethings who find themselves abandoned by the side of an isolated road after a tire on their SUV ruptures. Several minutes later, the group will begin to fall victim to a sniper hidden somewhere within the camouflaged terrain — but it’s what happens before the bullets begin to fly and the blood starts to spray that sets this memorable film apart.

While the dialogue between the characters is what you might expect — they make a few banal jokes, tell a few backstories — they all seem to like one another. There’s no dimwitted but ruggedly handsome jock; no bubble-gum-snapping blonde; no obnoxious frat-boy loser; no moody, poetry-scribbling loner. Keren (Stephanie Pearson), Todd (Rod Hernandez), Jodi (Kelly Connaire), Eric (Anthony Kirlew), Sara (Alexa Yeames), and Jeff (Jason Tobias) are all nice, normal people — so normal, in fact, that the audience never knows who is going to die next.

Without question, the characters could have been drawn out more with some sharply-written lines of dialogue, but Downrange still gives genre audiences everything they could possibly want: believable men and women who do believable things, unbearable suspense, non-stop action, and plenty of blood and carnage.

From its opening minutes to its gut-wrenching and surprising final seconds, the film is a must-watch.

The premise of Downrange might appear to have limitations, but the script (by Kitamura and Joey O’Bryan) features multiple surprises, including the arrival of certain characters the audience might not expect. Although the desolate setting works to the advantage of the shooter (played with silent, filthy menace by Aion Boyd), he faces many obstacles throughout this sweltering afternoon of hunting and killing.

One sequence involving a passing car is no-holds-barred exploitation cinema at its finest, offering up suspense, action, and blood-soaked butchery at every turn. Later, Keren leads the way as the group (what’s left of them, anyway) must decide on the best course of action in order to survive the night (like Erin from 2011’s You’re Next, Keren has learned a few survival skills of her own, enabling her to battle the sniper on her own terms).

All of the actors do a tremendous job of balancing difficult emotions — from shock and horror to grief and determination. Like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Kitamura’s film begs the question: who will survive and what will be left of them?

Equally impressive in Downrange are the cinematography (Matthias Schubert) and the editing (Shohei Kitajima). As the blood flows and brain matter splatters, the camerawork picks up every gooey detail, offering unique and even a few morbidly humorous angles.

Thematically, the film offers little hope, a brave choice by the director — rarely do such indie thrillers bask so willingly in the total despair and destruction of its principal characters. In one of the movie’s few stumbles, some police officers do show up on the scene near the end of the film, and their decision-making does not seem very well-informed or planned (of course, we see similar instances during mass shootings in the real world, so perhaps the choices of the fictional police are more realistic than we would like to admit).

A little slow-motion corniness subtracts from the climax to a certain degree, but it’s an intense showdown that audiences will be chomping at the bit to see. The final seconds of the movie are sure to generate lively discussion among the action fans and gore-hounds out there, so audiences might want to consider watching this accomplished film with a group of friends.

Ryuhei Kitamura’s Downrange definitely deserves a big audience — the movie is fun, explosive, and relentless, a dizzying effort to keep viewers riveted from beginning to end.

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