With the right script and the right cast, a basic bare-bones horror can still strike terror into audiences’ hearts with a simple idea and the pulse raised to the perfect level. Having a worthy foe to cause issues and angst for our hero is also a massive aid in keeping the attention so that when the final act arrives, you cheer when they snuff it in spectacularly grisly fashion.
Unfortunately, Range Runners does none of these things, which is disappointing given that it has every opportunity to get to the finish line, and instead ends up dragging its heels for the most of its runtime.
Celeste M. Cooper plays lone hiker, Mel, who after parting ways with her sister sets off on a trail along some undisclosed Appalachian area, only to encounter two random strangers who appear to have wandered from the beaten path for cliched crooks. Sean Patrick Leonard is the brutish brains of the outfit; permanently stuck in angry mode and failing to intimidate, while Michael B. Woods is the meek bad guy with a conscience, doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Both on the run from some dodgy dealings and with a backpack full of some questionable contents (did you guess drugs? me too!), Leonard’s Wayland and Woods’ Jared pinch Mel’s supply pack and leave her bound and stranded in the middle of the wilderness. It’s here where our lone hero taps into her rage levels and breaks free, making an effort to get back what was taken and go on her merry way. The immediate questions raised from this are ‘why?’ and ‘do we have to?’
The peaks on this lengthy and uneventful revenge story rest mostly with the woman out to get it. Cooper is undoubtedly the driving force at the centre of this mundane cat and mouse game, originally running like a woman on a mission before even before she hits a detour. When things go south, there’s a clear drive and focus in this solo all-terrain lady vengeance; one that combines inner turmoil with an evident intolerance for taking any shit when the stakes are raised. Pushed by flashbacks of time spent with her father, it’s a necessary element to not only flesh out our heroine but break-up the tame interactions and obstacles she’s faced with. When the threat level is raised (not that it ever goes very high), Mel meets them with a commendable effort – it’s just the opposition, and the plot as a whole, that struggles to pick up the pace.
It’s always great to see the villains get their comeuppance when the prey becomes predator, but with Range Runners, these bad guys are just simply, bad. Pinky and the Brain in human form just doesn’t come across as menacing and they collectively fail to create any tension between them and the woman they’ve stolen from. While Cooper pushes on as Mel, set on getting payback, her opposition fails to make even make the idea of a showdown worth sticking around for. Instead, we get a forgetful brawl in the woods that ends like so many other revenge films before it and feels nowhere as deserved. It’s not the fault of the cast, but the script could’ve easily taken another lap to stew and settle on what would make this compelling because the result is that barely any of it is.
Range Runners is quite simply a false start for all involved. Cooper may be giving it her best, but it can’t overshadow a promising idea that trips over cliches, below-average antagonists and a story that makes it hard to push on to the end. If you see this appear in your watch list, best to run in the other direction.