Between Celeste Cooper’s brusquely engaging lead performance, the no-frills directing style, and an easy-on-the-eyes natural setting that creaks, chirps, and scurries with life throughout there’s a lot to like about this tense couple hours in the woods. There are some criticisms (always), but for the most part I found this a good thrill ride and look forward to more from Cooper as well as the filmmakers.
After a quick youthful training flashback of her running coach being a hard-ass, Mel (Celeste M Cooper) briefly catches up with her sister, Chloe (Tiffany Renee Johnson), before the latest leg of a thru-hiking journey spanning hundreds of miles kicks into gear. Her mind and backpack ready, Mel sets off with a goal in sight on a solitary eight day trek through the woods only to find herself less alone than she was hoping for. Mel soon has only tough choices ahead of her as all intentions & expectations fall away and survival becomes all there is.
To start, Range Runners begins with the film’s weakest story aspect–flashbacks–so don’t hold that against it. That isn’t the last of the flashbacks, either, as they pop up occasionally for the duration even though they really don’t need to be here. Her running coach in these flashbacks, Howard (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), sure seems to love the sound of his own voice and I get he’s an old Army guy with the boot camp/drill sergeant-style of mentoring, but his repetitive monologues last way too long. Also, while getting criticisms out of the way, Mel makes a couple moronic scary movie character decisions that don’t mesh with the rather smart person she’s presented as. One thing in particular screams “plot contrivance” to an extreme, but I’ll let it go now.
Anyway, enough of that stuff because mostly I find this an all-around well done and enjoyable time at the movies. Opening flashback aside, it isn’t long before Mel’s off and running through woods brimming with the sights and sounds of nature. I really appreciate the ever-present background noise of the forest, something you’d think is easy enough to represent but often gets the short shrift. There *is* an unobtrusive score, here and there, but for the most part the sound design of the woods or whatever’s happening on screen is it as far as audio. The sustained tension and lack of loud noise jump scare nonsense is also greatly appreciated.
To circle back to Celeste Cooper’s portrayal of Mel again, she sells everything going on like a pro from the emotional headspace of her character to the physicality of what she’s capable of. Even though she’s definitely got some walls up and maybe comes across a little cold, Mel isn’t an unfeeling robot programmed to kill. In fact, one of her biggest mistakes here is being a little too caring and trusting of others. The rest of the cast does well enough with their supporting roles and that’s all they need to be–this is Celeste Cooper’s turn at the wheel. I’ll shut up about her now, but only after saying I hope she gets a shot at being a badass action hero a la John Wick, Atomic Blonde, etc.
Range Runners is a refreshingly simple narrative efficiently executed with a top-notch lead performance, so if you like movies that get your heart beating and maybe inspire a little fight-or-flight bloodlust I think you’ll have a good time with this one.
8 out of 10 Hikes Gone Wrong
|Range Runners – Available on demand and digital September 8th.
||1 Hr. 51 Mins.
Story by Devon Colwell and Philip S. Plowden